More than four million people from poor and middle-income countries received HIV/AIDS treatment in 2008, marking a tenfold increase in access to medication over five years, a UN report said Wednesday.
The biggest progress was recorded in sub-Saharan Africa, where two-thirds of all HIV infections occur, said the joint report by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
"Access to antiretroviral therapy continues to expand at a rapid rate," said the report.
Of an estimated 9.5 million people who needed treatment in these countries in 2008, 42 percent or 4.03 million were receiving antiretroviral therapy. In 2007, just 2.97 million were getting treatment, according to the report.
In sub-Saharan Africa, about 2.9 million patients were receiving treatment, up from almost 2.1 million in 2007, an increase of 39 percent.
The increase in the number of people receiving treatment is also expected to grow at the current pace.
Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS, told reporters during a press conference that some seven million people are expected to be receiving treatment by 2010, marking a three million increase in two years.
"That's including treatment needs, all suport for orphan care, capacity development and system building, preventing mothers, young people," he said.
Teguest Guerma, who heads the HIV/AIDS programme at the WHO said cheaper drugs was a key reason for the significant improvement in access to treatment.
"One of the major factors which contributed to create a wider availability of treatment is reduction of price of the most frequently used antiretroviral drugs," she said.
She explained that prices of most basic form of drugs fell by 10 to 40 percent between 2006 and 2008.
These drugs are known as first line treatment, and while they are cheaper, they are less efficient than second line and third line treatments.
However, the UN report also warned that access to treatment services is "falling far short of need and the global economic crisis has raised concerns about their sustainability."
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said: "This report shows tremendous progress in the global HIV/AIDS response."
"But we need to do more. At least five million people living with HIV still do not have access to life-prolonging treatment and care."
The increase in infections also poses a further challenge in ensuring sustainable and equal access to patients.
According to the WHO, the number of new infections is increasing at a faster rate than the number of people receiving treatment.
"All indications point to the number of people needing treatment rising dramatically over the next few years, said Sidibi.
"Ensuring equitable access will be one of our primary concerns and UNAIDS will continue to act as a voice for the voiceless, ensuring that marginalized groups and people most vulnerable to HIV infection have access to the services that are so vital to their well-being and to that of their families and communities."