New global guidelines for expanding AIDS treatment have been issued by the WHO, focusing for the first time on homosexuals, who face discrimination in many countries.
"If we do not pay major attention to the epidemic in key populations, we will not be able to eliminate HIV" -- the virus that can lead to AIDS, said Gottfried Hirnschall, WHO director of the HIV/AIDS department.
"Men having sexual relations with other men" as well as transsexuals represent those who were "disproportionately affected by the epidemic of HIV about 30 years ago and it continues to be so," Hirnschall said at a press conference in Geneva.
He added that the UN health agency has even seen a resurgence of the HIV epidemic, especially in industrialised countries.
"The dramatic fact is that MSM (men having sex with men) are estimated to be 20 times more likely to be HIV infected than the general population," he said.
In some countries and regions, up to 40 percent of homosexuals are estimated to be HIV positive, according to the WHO.
Given the sobering statistics, the WHO said it was launching new guidelines, aimed at the specific health needs of homosexuals.
The WHO said that many homosexuals suffer due to lack of access to adequate care, often because of discrimination against gays.
Homosexual activity is illegal in no fewer than 75 countries, most of them in Africa, and some also do not legally recognise transsexuals, the global health agency said.
"They are exposed to harassment, exclusion, discrimination, violence" in many aspects of their life, work, education, as well as the health care system, Hirnschall said.
"Because of the stigma, because of the discrimination, they often access services late," he said, or they may not be able to get treatment at all.
"There is quite a political backlash that we see in many parts of the world to actually give these groups the rights and the services that they need," he said.
The new guidelines in particular call for countries to adopt laws to end discrimination against gays and provide better access to treatment to reduce the number of new infections and save lives.