Azad clarifies on 'gay sex-is-unnatural' remark

Published: July 5, 2011

Under fire for describing homosexuality as “unnatural,” Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on Tuesday sought to clarify and explain the extempore remarks he made at a conference the previous day.
 
Mr. Azad said he had been quoted “totally out of context” by a section of the media, which reported him as saying that men having sex with men was a “disease.” A review of the video recording of his remarks, which were made in Hindi, makes it clear his use of the word bimari, or disease, referred to the spread of HIV-AIDS and not homosexuality.

However, there is no denying the fact that he said MSM was “unnatural,” and gay rights and AIDS activists on Tuesday attacked him for that.
 
On his part, the Minister insisted he used the controversial word to illustrate the fact that there was a wider debate in society about the legal status of homosexuality. Mr. Azad said it could never have been his intention to hurt the sentiments of any section of society.
 
A major challenge

Reaching out to the MSM community in India is a major challenge. Their HIV infection prevalence rate is much higher than the general public’s, Mr. Azad said. The prevalence rate among MSM is 7.3 per cent as compared to a national adult prevalence rate of 0.31 per cent. According to the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO), there are about 4,00,000 men who have sex with men.

Mr. Azad told journalists that his worry was in regard to MSM as it was difficult to identify, counsel and treat them. Female sex workers, who often lived in clusters, were easily accessible for reaching out HIV prevention services.

He said India had been able to reach out to truckers and injectible drug users to persuade them to take preventive measures. It had also managed to prevent transmission of infection from mother to child by providing HIV testing facilities for pregnant women.

“But MSM are difficult to identify and locate and hence reaching out to them with facilities is a challenge,” he said.
 
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