New Delhi: Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on Monday sparked off a debate by saying that homosexuality is 'unnatural' and a 'disease'.

Speaking at an AIDS conference in New Delhi, Azad said that gay sex is unnatural and leads to more AIDS cases. He added that the phenomenon has been transported to India from 'foreign shores'.

"The disease of 'Men having Sex with Men' (MSM), which was found more in the developed world, has now unfortunately come to our country and there is a substantial number of such people in India", Azad said.

The Health Minister also said that unlike female sex workers, it's a challenge to identify men who have sex with men.

Azad said, "With relationships changing, men are having sex with men now. Though it is easy to find women sex workers and educate them on sex, it is a challenge to find MSMs."

He also called for making sex education more open in the country, to help control the HIV epidemic. "We are lagging behind in sex education as compared to the West and not talking about sex has fuelled the epidemic."

He also said that there need to be an increase in efforts to promote sex education, especially among high risk groups, besides promoting condoms, treating sexually transmitted diseases and launching information and communication programmes amongst transgenders and sex workers to help control the disease.

The AIDS convention, organised by a forum of parliamentarians, was also attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi and some union ministers and Chief Ministers, besides members of Parliament and legislative assemblies, Zila Parishad chairpersons and mayors, apart from professionals working in the area.

Azad's comments, which come in the wake of growing demand to tackle HIV/AIDS, is likely to raise many an eyebrow and generate a heated debate. Activists in the country favouring homosexuality have fought a long battle against the stigma and discrimination associated with homosexuality.