Anti-gay laws in the Asia-Pacific region are causing higher rates of HIV infections, the UN has warned.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), such laws mean that gay men and trans people are less likely to seek medical help and be aware of how to prevent HIV transmission.

In a statement released at the World AIDS Conference in Vienna, the UNDP said: “Some 19 of 48 countries in the Asia Pacific region continue to criminalise male-to-male sex.

“These laws often taken on the force of vigilantism, frequently leading to abuse and human rights violations. Correspondingly, HIV prevalence has reached alarming levels among men who have sex with men and transgender populations in many countries of the region.”

Some of the countries in the region which criminalise gay sex are Afghanistan, Bhutan, Kiribati and Malaysia.

The report said that while some of these countries identify men who have sex with men of being at particular risk of HIV, police target gay men and trans people leading to assaults, extortion and imprisonment.

It added that health workers, many of whom are gay or trans, are also targeted, which leads to the disruption of safer sex and health care schemes.

Events on HIV prevention and publicity materials are often censored, the UNDP said, while banning gay sex discourages support groups being set up.

The report claimed that half of all new HIV infections will be found in gay and bisexual men by 2020 if current trends continue.

It recommended repealing anti-gay laws, supporting community-based education and implementing anti-discrimination policies across the region.