Sexual health campaigners are calling for better HIV awareness programmes after a Health Protection Agency report revealed that an estimated 63,500 adults are now living with HIV in the UK , with an increase in cases for gay men.

This latest figure includes both those who have been diagnosed and also around a third (20,100) who remain unaware of their infection.

The report, released this week, called A Complex Picture is being launched ahead of World AIDS Day and contains the most up-to-date description of both HIV and AIDS and sexually transmitted infections in the UK .

According to the report, three in every hundred gay men who attended an STI clinic in the last year had acquired HIV, HIV expert at the Agency, Dr Valerie Delpech, said: “The high level of new HIV cases being diagnosed continued in 2005 with 7450 cases recorded, including almost 2400 new cases in gay men.”

She said sexual health campaigns for young people are vital.

A sentiment echoed by HIV charity the Terrence Higgins Trust. The group’s chief executive, Nick Partridge, said: “We can prevent new infections by hammering home those safer sex messages to people most at risk of HIV. The message is clear: use a condom, and get tested if you think you’ve been at risk of infection.

“Diagnosing the third of people with HIV who don’t know they have it is vital to prevent onward transmission and untimely deaths. To bring these numbers down, we must make it easier and faster to get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.”

Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust said HIV called for more investment in prevention programmes, “HIV is the most important sexual health issue facing the UK today and it is very worrying that new HIV diagnoses continue to be high among both gay and bisexual men and heterosexuals.

“It is vitally important that the Government increases its investment in sustained HIV prevention programmes. In particular, HIV testing should be made more widely available outside GU and antenatal clinics in order to reduce the high level of people living with HIV who are undiagnosed or diagnosed late. This must be coupled with initiatives to tackle stigma and educate the public about HIV as ignorance and discrimination can act as a barrier to people getting tested.”

Describing the report, Ms Delpech said: “We are seeing an ever increasing pool of people living with HIV and AIDS in the UK . This is due to people living longer with HIV due to advances in treatment, sustained levels of newly acquired infections in gay men, further diagnoses among heterosexuals who acquired their infection in Africa , and cases being picked up earlier.”