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UN reports major gains in the fight against HIV

The global rate of HIV infection and AIDS-related deaths have been dramatically reduced due to expanding access to treatment, the UN has reported. Since 2001 new HIV infections have been cut by a third overall.

In its annual report on the state of the global pandemic released Monday, UNAIDS said 2.3 million people contracted the AIDS virus last year, down 33 percent from 2001. Meanwhile, 260,000 children became infected which is down from 52 percent in 2001.

UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe hailed the report as "continued progress towards the global vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths."

The UN attributed the major success to the expanded distribution of antiretroviral drugs, a pharmaceutical "cocktail" which curtails HIV transmission but does not cure it.

Many of the drastic gains were made in sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of the world's 3.3 million infected children live.

In Ghana, 90 percent of pregnant, HIV-positive women had access to antiretroviral treatment last year, a major gain from just 32 percent three years earlier.

As a result, the chances of women in Ghana infecting their unborn children dropped from 31 percent in 2009 to just nine percent last year, the report said.

As a result of the increased access to treatment more people are living with HIV. UNAID reported some 35.3 million people were living with the virus last year which is up from 30 million in 2001.

In 2011, UN member states set a target of getting HIV treatment to 15 million people by 2015. UNAIDS chief Sidibe said the international community should aim to surpass this goal.

"Not only can we meet the 2015 target of 15 million people on HIV treatment, we must also go beyond and have the vision and commitment to ensure no one is left behind," he said.

Total funding for the fight against HIV/AIDS in 2012 was $18.9 billion (14 billion euros), about $3 billion to $5 billion short of the estimated $22 billion to $24 billion needed annually to reach the 2015 goal.

hc/kms (AFP, Reuters)