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UN seeks wider access to treatment to conquer HIV/AIDS

Despite positive global trends, has said it needs access to twice as much HIV medication to fight the virus. New infections are still on the rise in many regions, with sub-Saharan Africa particularly blighted.

Hailing the "extraordinary progress" made "to break the AIDS epidemic" over the last 15 years, a UNAIDS report released on Tuesday expressed hope that HIV/AIDS can be overcome as a global health threat by 2030.

The UN agency's report found that the total annual rate of new infections has dropped since 2000, as has the number of children infected and deaths caused by the virus.

Despite progress made around the globe, improvements in certain regions remain slow. About two-thirds of all new infections last year were logged in sub-Saharan Africa, where 790,000 people died of AIDS-related causes.

In addition, the rate of new AIDS infections since 2000 had also risen in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East.

Shortfall in medication

The largest challenge now is to widen the availability of HIV treatment. Some 15.8 million people living with HIV had access to

antiretroviral therapy

this year, up from 2.2 million people worldwide in 2005. Despite the steep increase, this is still less than half of the estimated 36.9 million worldwide with the virus.

The report called for treatment to be made available immediately after an HIV-positive diagnosis.

"Every five years we have more than doubled the number of people on life-saving treatment," UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe announced. "We need to do it just one more time to break the AIDS epidemic and keep it from rebounding," he added.

To stay on track towards this goal, UNAIDS called for an increase in funding to over $31 billion (29 billion euros), from last year's contribution of $20 billion. The agency also recommended more targeted approaches towards the regions where progress has been slow or negative.

"We must take HIV services to the people who are most affected, and ensure that these services are delivered in a safe, respectful environment with dignity and free from discrimination," Sidibe said.

jtm/msh (AFP, dpa)

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