New research suggests that HIV epidemics are emerging in North Africa and the Middle East among men who have sex with men (MSM).

According to researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, countries such as Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan and Tunisia are seeing high rates of infection in gay and bisexual men.

Across the region, homosexuality is illegal or frowned upon in most countries.

The researchers said it was a common belief that little or no data is held on MSM HIV transmissions in North Africa and the Middle East. However, they discovered some reliable and previously unpublished sources.

Researcher Ghina Mumtaz told Reuters: “It’s like the black hole in the global HIV map – and this has triggered many controversies and debates around the status of the epidemic.”

She added: “Men who have sex with men are still a highly hidden population in the region and there is stigma around this behaviour, but some countries have been able to find creative ways of dealing with the problem and at the same time avoiding the social, cultural and political sensitivities.”

The research, published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine journal, urged countries to do more to address MSM infections.