Sarah Boseley

Change mainly due to availability of better data from India

London: The United Nations has revised downwards its global estimate of the numbers infected with HIV/AIDS, as a result of better information and understanding of the disease.

Last year UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation (WHO) said 39.5 million people were infected with HIV and would need life-saving treatment now, or in the near future. But on Wednesday, the UNAIDS annual report said the true figure is 33.2 million. The substantial drop in numbers will provoke critics of the U.N., some of whom have accused its AIDS-combating arm of artificially inflating the scale of the pandemic in order to attract more funds.

But the U.N. says the revision is very largely due to a better assessment of the scale of the epidemic in India.

Similar improvements in data collection have led to lower figures also for Angola, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

But the smaller numbers should not lead to complacency, said Kevin de Cock, director of HIV/AIDS at the WHO. “This remains the leading infectious disease challenge to global health,” he said. Paul De Lay, UNAIDS director of evidence, monitoring and policy, warned that new infections hit 2.5 million last year. In the U.S., the U.K., and also in Uganda, which was once lauded for bringing down its HIV rates, prevalence was rising again. Treatment programmes in sub-Saharan Africa are having results, the report says.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2007