Deaths from AIDS-related illnesses fell in 2007 for the second year running, thanks mainly to the widening distribution of drugs to control the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that wrecks immune defences, an UNAIDS report said.
Mortality from AIDS last year was around two million -- some 200,000 deaths fewer than in 2005.
The tally of people living with HIV last year is put at around 33 million, compared with 32.7 million in 2006, according to the report, issued ahead of the 17th International AIDS Conference , opening in Mexico City on Sunday.
Some 2.7 million people became newly infected last year.
Overall, the share of the world's population with HIV reached 0.8 percent in 2000 and has stayed roughly at this plateau ever since, the report notes.
But the total of people with the virus continues to edge up, posing the risk of further infections and further straining of resources.
"The global epidemic is stabilising but at an unacceptably high level," said the document, 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, which fine tunes estimates made in December.
A massive increase in funding for countries -- led by those in Africa, home to two-thirds of those with the disease -- was now bearing fruit.
"Progress remains uneven, however, and the epidemic's future is still uncertain," the report cautioned.
UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot placed the spotlight on beefing up prevention, as the pandemic could not be defeated by treating people alone.
"Gains in saving lives by preventing new infections and providing treatment to people living with HIV must be sustained over the long term," Piot said.
"Short-term gains should serve as a platform for reinvigorating combination HIV prevention and treatment efforts and not spur complacency."
These were among the report's highlights:
-- PREVENTION: In some countries, the growth in HIV infections is being braked or even reversed, thanks to HIV drugs that reduce infectiveness, to increased condom use and, in some African settings, to greater sexual abstention among teens aged under 15.
But in China, Indonesia, Kenya, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Ukraine and Vietnam, rates of new infections are rising. And in Australia, Britain and Germany, where HIV became established in the 1980s, incidence is increasing.
Outside Africa, where HIV is spread overwhelmingly by heterosexual intercourse, transmission occurs especially among niche groups such as gays, sex workers and intravenous drug addicts. Many prevention programmes fail to reach these vulnerable groups.
-- TREATMENT: An estimated 2.9 million people in poor countries, a 45 percent increase over 2006, now have access to antiretroviral drugs, which keep HIV at bay but do not eradicate it completely. This is less than a third of the 9.7 million who need the therapy, though.
Some badly-hit countries have scored dramatic gains on this front, such as Botswana, where access is more than 75 percent of those in need. Others, though, such as Ghana, where the reach is less than 10 percent, are lagging badly.
-- FUNDING: Around 10 billion dollars were spent on fighting AIDS in poor countries last year, but this was still 8.1 billion dollars short of what was needed, says UNAIDS.
Simply to maintain the current pace of drug access will need funding levels to rise by more than 50 percent by 2010. Even more will be needed to meet the goal, set down by the UN General Assembly in 2006, of achieving universal access by 2010.