The global AIDS epidemic continues to spiral with 4.3 million new infections reported in 2006, with sub-Saharan Africa alone accounting for 65 percent of the cases, states a new UNAIDS report.
The UNAIDS/WHO 2006 AIDS Epidemic Update released in Geneva Tuesday estimates that globally 39.5 million people are living with HIV. Of these, about 8.6 million are in Asia, including the 960,000 people who became newly infected in the past year.
India is estimated to have around 5.2 million HIV infected cases, the second largest after South Africa.
According to the report, of the 4.3 million new infections, 2.8 million occurred in sub-Saharan Africa and there were important increases in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where there are some indications that infection rates have risen by more than 50 percent since 2004.
"There is increasing evidence of HIV outbreaks among men who have sex with men in Cambodia, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam as well as across Latin America but most national AIDS programmes fail to address the specific needs of these people," states the report.
Referring to India, the report says that the bulk of HIV infections in the country occur during unprotected heterosexual intercourse. Consequently, women account for a growing proportion of people living with HIV (some 38 percent in 2005), especially in rural areas.
A large proportion of women in India with HIV appear to have acquired the virus from regular partners who were infected during paid sex.
In 2006, 2.9 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses.
While evidence points to a resurgence in new HIV infection rates in some countries which were previously stable or declining, there is also a decline in infection rates in some countries as well as positive trends in young people's sexual behaviours, says the report.
Expressing a major concern, it says "HIV prevention programmes are failing to address the overlap between injecting drug use and sex work within the epidemics of Latin America, Eastern Europe and particularly Asia".
"It is imperative that we continue to increase investment in both HIV prevention and treatment services to reduce unnecessary deaths and illness from this disease," says WHO Acting Director-General Dr Anders Nordstram.
"In sub-Saharan Africa, the worst affected region, life expectancy at birth is now just 47 years, which is 30 years less than most high-income countries."
The update underlines how weak HIV surveillance regions like Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa often means that people at highest risk -- "men who have sex with men, sex workers, and injecting drug users" -- are not adequately reached through prevention and treatment strategies because not enough is known about their particular situations and realities.
The report also stresses that levels of knowledge of safe sex and HIV remain low in many countries, as does perception of personal risk.
Even in countries where the epidemic has very high impact, such as Swaziland and South Africa, a large proportion of the population do not believe they are at risk of becoming infected.