Gordon Brown has unveiled government plans to increase the AIDS support grant by 20 per cent, equivalent to £17.6m, over the next three years.

But, he stressed, in his announcement made the day before World AIDS Day, commitment is needed from the whole of society to help fight stigma and educate people to protect themselves.

Mr Brown said that HIV and AIDS are “one of the greatest challenges of our time and a key priority for this government.”

He added that the illness must be added to the list of other diseases, such as smallpox, which have now been eradicated.

In particular, attention will be given to health promotion work for gay men and African communities with an extra £2m investment.

Although the UK still has far lower rates of HIV than many other European countries, last year 7000 people were newly diagnosed with HIV.

Of those, 11 per cent were under the age of 24.

“Gordon Brown is absolutely right to highlight the impact of HIV in this country,” said Nick Partridge, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust.

“There are three times as many people living with HIV in the UK than in 1997 and the number of new infections each year is far too high.

“We need to re-invest in HIV prevention campaigns and effectively challenge the stigma which is still attached to HIV.

“We warmly welcome the increase in the AIDS support grant and its guarantee for the next three years.

“This will help local authorities provide support for the much larger number of individuals and families whose lives have been shattered by HIV.”

The National AIDS Trust also welcomed Mr Brown’s announcement but expressed concern about how the money would be spent.

“It is great to see the government taking seriously the social needs of people living with HIV in this country,” said Chief Executive Deborah Jack.

“But given the way recent public health funding was diverted at the local level, our one please is that this ring-fenced budget is actually spent on those it is meant to benefit, people with HIV.”

Last week, the government announced a further two programmes of support to countries abroad where HIV and AIDs is prevalent.

£19m will be spent on a television campaign in south Africa and £40m in Kenya, with the objective of changing attitudes to sex and encouraging the use of condoms.

“There are now 1.34 million people in Africa who are living with HIV instead of dying from AIDS, because of what we, together, have done,” said Mr Brown.

In the past 10 years the number of people being seen for HIV care has more than trebled, whilst a recent National AIDS Trust survey into Primary Care Trusts revealed that in the same period the amount spent on HIV prevention has decreased.

Groups working with gay men in London have highlighted recommendations to slash NHS funding for HIV prevention work among gay men in the capital by 36% in 2008 – a cut of more than £650,000.