Homosexuals, prostitutes and drug users must been seen as risk groups in the battle against the AIDs epidemic, the United Nations (UN) secretary general said today.

Kofi Annan told delegates at the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS that certain groups need protection and cannot be ignored in fighting the epidemic.

Mr Annan said: “We need to be realistic.

“We will not succeed by putting our heads in the sand and pretending these people do not exist or do not need help.”

“We must work closely and constructively with those who have so often been marginalized, sex workers, injecting drug users and men who have sex with men.”

The US has previously been hesitant to address gay people in UN proposals although it has been more willing recently.

But to address homosexuality in any UN declaration would mean a change in attitudes for many Muslim, Latin American and African countries where it is illegal and genrally frowned upon.

A UNAIDS report earlier this week called for better planning, funding and leadership to combat the worldwide AIDs epidemic.

It claimed that HIV is still an “exceptional threat” although it is slowing down in some places.

The survey of 126 countries found 38.6 million people have HIV with young people becoming increasing affected.

HIV prevention programmes are failing, the document states, as only 50% of young people know about the disease and just 9% of sexually active gay men receive HIV prevention services.

A final UN declaration is due to be announced today.