New HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa are growing twice as quickly as anti-retroviral drugs are rolled out, despite a 39 percent hike in treatment access, UNAIDS said Wednesday.
The number of people receiving AIDS treatments in the region, where two-thirds of the world's HIV positive people live -- rose from 2.1 million in 2007 to 2.9 million last year.
Although the region showed the world's greatest progress in expanding AIDS treatment, new infections still outpace the numbers of people on the life-saving drugs, according to new figures from the World Health Organisation, UNAIDS and the UN Children's Fund.
"The number of new infections in the region is outpacing the number of people getting treatment by a ratio of two to one," regional UNAIDS director Mark Stirling told a press briefing in Johannesburg.
Several sub-Saharan governments were putting prevention strategies in place, but the political will to implement them still lags, he said.
More discussion was also needed around the social factors underpinning new infections, such as sexual violence and inter-generational sex between older men and young women and girls, said Stirling.
"There really needs to be a social transformation. At the moment, there is no social movement, so there is a need for a stronger political leadership and for a stronger traditional leadership."
The gap between treatment and new infections in sub-Saharan countries posed a financial threat to the treatment schemes, said Stella Anyangwe of the WHO in South Africa.
"At the rate it is going, it is almost impossible that every country gives free treatment to everyone," she said.
South Africa, which has the world's largest HIV positive population of nearly six million, had developed a "very coherent" prevention programme, said Stirling.
"2008 was an important transition year on the prevention. We are not seeing the results yet, but the strategy is there and the results will come."
The joint report, launched in Geneva on Wednesday, showed that more than four million people from poor and middle-income countries received HIV/AIDS treatment in 2008.
Of an estimated 9.5 million people who needed treatment in these countries in 2008, 42 percent or 4.03 million were receiving anti-retroviral therapy. In 2007, just 2.97 million were getting treatment, according to the report.