The UK’s International Development Minister travelled to Johannesburg last week to offer the new South African Health Minister, Barbara Hogan, direct support as she embarks upon a new drive to tackle the HIV epidemic.

More than 2.5 million people have died in South Africa and more than 5.5 million people are living with HIV.

Every day 800 people die from AIDS and 1500 people are infected with HIV – around one person every minute.

The national response to AIDS has been severely hampered by “denialism,” the disproven theory that HIV does not cause AIDS.

Ivan Lewis said that, ahead of World AIDS Day, the British would help Ms Hogan, whose recent appointment “has signalled a significant change in direction in the fight against HIV and AIDS after years of inaction, misinformation and denial.”

The UK pledged £15 million to help stop the spread of HIV across the country.

The money will be spent on more protection for mothers and babies, a national HIV awareness campaign, better nurses, doctors and clinics.

The National AIDS Council will be strengthened and given a clearer remit to hold all parts of government to account, as well as frontline agencies involved in tackling HIV and delivering health services.

“For too long, South Africa has been fighting AIDS with its hands tied behind its back – with over 5.5 million people living with HIV,” said Mr Lewis.

“Those ties have now been removed and the country has a real opportunity finally to turn the tide in its struggle against this epidemic.

“Barbara Hogan has set a bold and exciting vision on HIV and AIDS and that is why the UK is fully committed to working with her as she embarks on this new approach.

“We must ensure this new direction is irreversible and that there are no more lost opportunities to save lives.

“If we manage to control and then reverse HIV and AIDS in South Africa there will be a positive knock-on effect across Southern Africa and the continent.”

The new awareness campaign, Small Acts, Many People, Big Change: We shall overcome will begin on Friday.

Information on safe-sex and HIV health issues will be sent out via radio, newspaper, text messages and street posters.

The multi-media campaign is expected to reach 9 in 10 South Africans – more than 43 million people.

It will culminate in a minute’s silence followed by a national work stoppage today, World AIDS Day, to start a “national conversation” about AIDS.