Calls for an end to discrimination against sufferers rang out on World AIDS Day on Tuesday as South Africa, the country worst affected by the pandemic, rolled out a new battleplan to beat the virus.

With more than 33 million people round the world carrying the virus, China said the incidence among homosexuals was gaining pace while there were warnings in Europe that heterosexual contacts had become the chief transmission route. And French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy lent her star power to the global campaign against AIDS by calling for greater efforts to beat mother-to-child HIV transmission.

In China President Hu Jintao called on people in the world's most populous nation not to discriminate against those with HIV. You "must care more and better for AIDS patients and people living with HIV, and in particular guide society into not discriminating against them," Hu told AIDS prevention volunteers in Beijing, comments broadcast by state television. Levels of stigma and discrimination against sufferers remain high in large parts of Asia such as South Korea where many foreign workers are forced to undergo mandatory HIV tests to secure visas.

In an annual report released last week, the UN said that around two million people died of the disease in 2008, bringing the overall toll to around 25 million since the virus was first detected three decades ago. Almost 60 million people have been infected by the HIV virus since it was first recorded, the UNAIDS agency said in its report, putting the total number of people currently living with the virus at 33.4 million.

South Africa remains the world's worst-hit country, a status which many campaigners have attributed to a history of "denialism" within government. President Jacob Zuma, who was then head of the National AIDS Council, provoked ridicule three years ago when he said that he had showered to wash away the risk of AIDS after having sex with an HIV-positive woman. But since then, Zuma has been trying to reshape his image and used World AIDS Day to announce a raft of new measures to rein in the disease that has hit 5.7 million of South Africa's 48 million people. "Let today be the dawn of a new era. Let there be no more shame, no more blame, no more discrimination and no more stigma," he said in his speech.