New Delhi: With his remarks on homosexuality among men creating uproar, Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on Tuesday said he had been "quoted out of context" and he "never intended to hurt the sentiments of any section of society".

After adverse reactions came in from various sections, including some gay organisations, Azad convened a hurried press briefing, where he said, "It is not my intention at all to hurt the sentiments of any section of society. I never used the words homosexuality or gay and the 'disease' that I was referring to was HIV and not as quoted".

"I have used only technical language and not used any of the words "gay" or "homosexuality" used normally."

Azad maintained that the number of men having sex with men (MSMs) in our country was increasing and the prevalence of HIV among this group was high as compared to the national average. "It is an issue of concern for us and is thus a major challenge for the Health Ministry. It is a challenge for us to identify them, counsel them and treat them".

"My worry is in favour of those MSMs and not against them," he further clarified, without getting into more discussion on the issue.

Quoting figures, the Health Minister said the prevalence of HIV among MSMs was 7.3 per cent, as against the national average of 0.31 per cent of HIV incidence among adults, which was considerably high.

Azad's comments about homosexuality being a "disease" and being "unnatural" has generated a heated debate and many gay clubs and other organisations have criticised him and sought his resignation.

The Minister, however, reiterated that it was difficult to find MSMs, even though female sex workers were found at designated places and could be counselled or treated for HIV.

"When we were children, we only heard about such a disease prevalent abroad and it was not there in our country. There is nothing wrong in terming HIV as a disease."

On being asked about his "unnatural" remarks about MSMs, Azad said, "Anyone may have a different opinion over the issue. I do not wish to get into any controversy or debate".

When asked specifically about the difference between homosexuals, gays and MSMs, Azad refused to dwell further on the issue and ended the conference.

Remarks invite flak from Bollywood

Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad's comments on homosexuality have not gone down well with several Bollywood personalities, who have criticised his ‘regressive’ stand on the issue.

The Health Minister had on Monday described homosexuality as a 'disease' and regretted that despite being 'unnatural', it now afflicts a substantial number of people in India.

"Ghulam Nabi Azad needs urgent counseling for his regressive statement. His 'unnatural' stand is dangerous for healthy democracy. Its because of these regressive people the largest democracy in the world deprives the largest number of sexual minorities their democratic rights," filmmaker Onir tweeted.

Actress Celina Jaitly, who is a supporter of the rights and equality of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community and supports the gay rights movement in India, said, "I m shocked to hear that our health minister would make a statement about homosexuality calling it a "disease" WHO does not think so Sir!."

"Dear honourable Mr Health Minister, the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality from its list of diseases in 1990," Celina said.

Filmmaker Tarun Mansukhani said, "Just woke up to read the astonishing comments made by our Union Health Minister, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, who claims Homosexuality is a disease!! (Speechless...Abusive...ROFL...Abusive again....Pensive.)"

JPN/Agencies

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