updated 6/10/2008 11:30:29 AM ET 2008-06-10T15:30:29

Despite a stepped up global battle against AIDS, the numbers of people newly infected with HIV are far and away outpacing the numbers beginning antiretroviral drug treatments, U.N. officials said Monday.

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, opening several days of U.N. debate on AIDS prevention, told world leaders that 2.5 million people became infected with HIV last year compared with 1 million who started using important antiretroviral drugs.

"Unless greater and swifter advances are made in reaching those who need essential services, the epidemic's burden on households, communities and societies will continue to mount," Ban said.

Some 2.1 million people died of AIDS last year and at least 33 million people world wide have the HIV infection, according to U.N. figures.

In addition, people with weakened immune systems from HIV are up to 50 times more likely to develop tuberculosis, U.N. officials say.

"We cannot separate the fight against HIV/AIDS from the fight against TB," said General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim, who will preside over a two-day meeting on AIDS starting Tuesday.

Former President Bill Clinton pointed out ramifications that rising oil prices have on battling the disease.

"This oil price spike has taken away 100 percent of the value of foreign aid and debt relief to very many countries," he told the U.N. "It has dramatically increased the cost of producing food, and it has increased therefore the number of people who are at risk of these diseases."

Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, said 2 million people were getting antiretroviral drugs in Africa.

Antiretroviral drugs have made HIV a manageable illness for many patients and prolonged their lives beyond what once seemed possible.

The U.N.-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS Tuberculosis and Malaria announced Monday it helped 1.75 million get antiretroviral treatment — a 59 percent increase over last year.

But slightly more than two-thirds of people with HIV globally are not getting any such treatment, according to U.N. figures.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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