The World Health Organisation (WHO) is introducing new guidelines about the treatment of HIV in the developing world.

It is recommending that doctors offer antiretroviral treatment to patients with HIV once their CD4 count has fallen below 500.

The WHO says the guidelines, which are being launched at an international AIDS conference in Kuala Lumpur, could help avert an extra 3 million deaths by 2025.

Currently, the British HIV Association (BHIVA) guidelines recommend doctors offer treatment when a patient’s CD4 count falls below 350.

Responding to the WHO’s announcement, Paul Ward, deputy chief executive at Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), said: “These guidelines have implications for the UK and would expand the number of people eligible for HIV treatment. Using treatment to reduce transmission is a key part of modern prevention efforts, including our own.

“In the UK, we have some of the best treatments in the world, and offering them earlier could be one way of slowing the spread of the epidemic. It could also improve the person’s own long-term health.”

Mr Ward added: “HIV testing rates in this country are far too low, even among those groups most at risk. Over half of new diagnoses take place after a point at which the current guidelines state someone should have started treatment.

“Undiagnosed and late-diagnosed HIV not only puts a person at risk of serious ill health, it also makes them far more likely to pass the infection on.”

Last week Amnesty International warned that anti-gay legislation was hampering the fight against the spread of HIV in Africa, because it was leading to even greater stigmatisation resulting in a failure to access treatment.

In the last five years, South Sudan and Burundi have introduced new laws criminalising same-sex relations.

Homosexuality remains illegal in 39 countries in sub-Saharan African.

The parliaments of Uganda, Liberia and Nigeria have draft laws before them, seeking to increase penalties.