Leaders of Commonwealth countries will be asked to decriminalise homosexuality to help to stop the spread of HIV, an Australian official has said.

Forty-one of the 53 Commonwealth countries – including Uganda, Zimbabwe and Ghana – still criminalise gay sex and HIV campaigners say such laws are seriously hampering safe sex initiatives.

Leaders will meet in Perth, Australia, next week for the Commonwealth heads of government meeting (CHOGM).

Australian delegate Michael Kirby said today that the agenda will include a request to scrap anti-gay laws.

He told ABC Radio that HIV messages were “very difficult” to get across without removing laws against gay sex.

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who is calling on people to lobby Commonwealth leaders, said that there is a “strong possibility” that the issue will appear on the agenda.

But he added that it was “not yet a certainty” and urged people to sign a petition.

Mr Tatchell said: “We need a last-minute push to make sure this issue is advanced. It would be very helpful for people to sign this petition and get their friends to do likewise. All signatures will be sent directly to the foreign ministers of many Commonwealth countries.”

He added: “We are fairly hopeful that Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma will make an appeal for LGBT human rights during his conference speeches and that is down to a worldwide lobbying effort.

“Our chances are much better this year than at any other Commonwealth summit.”