Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has called on Burma to decriminalise homosexuality, with the United Nations warning anti-gay laws are hampering efforts to fight HIV among gay men in the country.

“Because of stigma, many people do not come to receive life-saving treatment or prevention services. This is costing lives,” Suu Kyi said in a message to an HIV/AIDS regional Asia-Pacific conference on Tuesday. “We need an Asia-Pacific community of compassion to end discrimination.”

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who spent most of the past two decades under house arrest in Rangoon, will deliver a keynote speech at a World AIDS Day event in Melbourne on 1 December.

On Tuesday, the United Nations HIV/AIDS agency, UNAIDS, praised Burma for slashing HIV infection rates by 72% in little over a decade, but warned in a report that HIV cases among sex workers and gay men were continuing to rise,

Nearly one third of intravenous drug users in the Kachin capital Myitkyina were estimated to be HIV positive, along with 21.3% of men who have sex with men (MSM). The report noted a decline in infections among female sex workers, although rates remain disproportionately high — reaching 15% in Bassein.

Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Burma with custodial sentences of up to ten years’ imprisonment – although such sentences are rare.

Fines can also be issued. Despite the laws, there is growing acceptance in some quarters for the country’s LGBT community.