The United Nations claims significant progress against the global AIDS epidemic, which was first diagnosed in the United States 30 years ago on Sunday.

It cited a record number of 6.6 million people in developing countries currently under the anti-retroviral therapy, a record number of people having access to other treatment and an estimated 25-per-cent fall in new HIV infections in the past decade.

But at the same time there are also, unfortunately, 9 million people in poor countries who have been denied the same therapy because of the lack of funding.

A total of 23.6 billion dollars were needed to fight AIDS in 2009, but only about 16 billion dollars were received from governments’ as well private donors.

A week before the UN General Assembly is to convene a high-level government conference on HIV/AIDS, the first since 2001, UN officials and groups associated with the global anti-AIDS campaign on Friday said the gloomy statistics cannot hide the successes.

“Thirty years ago when scientists first identified AIDS, it was mysterious, deadly and spreading,” UN Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro said in New York.

“Now three decades on, more and more people have access to treatment, infections are declining and greater numbers of pregnant women living with HIV are keeping their babies free of the infection.” The UN AIDS conference, from June 8 to 10, will be “our chance to chart a new, bold path,” said Migiro, who is a former foreign minister of Tanzania.

Migiro said the goals to be achieved by 2015 and beyond will be: zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths, which she dubbed the “triple zeros.” “We have come a long way,” said the head of the UN-AIDS programme, Michel Sidibe, in resenting the official UN reports on HIV/AIDS.

Sidibe said the 6.6 million people under anti-retroviral treatment represented a 22-fold increase since 2001, when the UN General Assembly held its last AIDS conference.

The UN report, “AIDS at 30: Nations at the crossroads,” provided fresh data on the global anti-AIDS fight, with numbers that make readers squirmy.

There were more than 34 million people worldwide living with HIV last year, up from 33.3 million in 2009.

In the past 30 years, the AIDS virus has infected a total of 65 million people and many of them have died.

The estimated AIDS-related deaths stood at nearly 30 million, according to the report, which updated previous estimations.

“Access to treatment will transform the AIDS response in the next decade,” said Sidibe. “We must invest in accelerating access and finding new treatment options.” Sidibe said anti-retroviral treatment has become a “bigger game-changer” than ever before because it can not only stop people from dying of AIDS, but also prevent transmission of HIV to women, men and children.

“AIDS has moved from what was effectively a death sentence to a chronic disease,” Sidibe said. He said new HIV infections have declined 25 per cent since 2001.

Sidibe also said that other major breakthroughs have been a social compact between rich and poor countries to fight the epidemic because the disease is global. He said discrimination has waned against HIV-infected people in most societies.

The report cited numerous advances against the epidemic. It said a record 1.4 million people started life-saving treatment in 2010. It said at least 420,000 children were being treated with anti-retroviral medicine in 2010, representing a whopping 50-per-cent increase since 2008.

In India and South Africa, which have the largest number of people living with HIV in the world, new HIV infections fell by more than 50 per cent in the former and by more than 35 per cent in the latter.

The current rates of new HIV infections stand at about 7,000 a day, including 1,000 children.

The UN Children’s Fund gave its own assessment, and not the best one. It said an estimated 16.6 million children worldwide lost one or both parents to AIDS in 2010, despite progress made in the anti-AIDS campaign.

Most of those children - 14.9 million - were from sub-Saharan Africa.

The poorest households are also the most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and the disease can have heavy economic impacts on those households, striking at key young adult income earners and professionals, UNICEF said.

“These children have already experienced the tragedy of losing a parent or a loved one to AIDS - only to be subjected to stigma, discrimination and exclusion from school and social services,” said UNICEF Director Anthony Lake.

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