Almost 5 million people were infected by HIV globally in 2005, the highest jump since the first reported case in 1981 and taking the number living with the virus to a record 40.3 million, the United Nations said on Monday.
The 4.9 million new infections were fuelled by the epidemic’s continuing rampage in sub-Saharan Africa and a spike in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the UNAIDS body said in its annual report.
“Despite progress made in a small but growing number of countries, the AIDS epidemic continues to outstrip global efforts to contain it,” the report said.
More than 3.1 million people have died this year from AIDS, including 570,000 children -- far more than the toll from all natural disasters since last December’s tsunami.
Southern Africa, including South Africa -- which has the world’s most cases at more than 5.1 million -- continues to be worst-hit.
Saying nine out of 10 people in developing countries do not know their HIV status, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot called for an unprecedented response to the global AIDS crisis.
“A business-as-usual approach will not do,” he told a news conference in New Delhi. India, with about 5 million HIV sufferers, has the second-highest number of cases after South Africa and there are concerns many cases are unreported.
Focusing on South Africa where the infection rate among pregnant women touched 29.5 percent in 2005, the report said deaths of people aged between 25 and 44 had more than doubled.
Other southern Africa countries such as Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland had high rates of HIV among pregnant women -- more than 30 percent -- and sign of growth rates stabilsing.
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 25.8 million HIV-positive people, or 64 percent of the world’s total.
Monogamous women at risk
In Asia, a total of 1.2 million new cases since 2003 pushed total cases to 8.3 million, with conditions in countries such as Vietnam and Pakistan ripe for a rapid spread.
UNAIDS said the number of HIV-positive women reached 17.5 million this year, more than one million more than in 2003.
“In many countries, marriage, and women’s own fidelity are not enough to protect them against HIV infection,” the report said, adding in India many new infections were being reported in married women infected by their husbands after visiting sex workers.
In Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Russian federation, infections due to unprotected sex are rising after the initial momentum given to the epidemic by injecting drug use.
The report said a total of 1.6 million were living with HIV in 2005 in the region, up from 1.3 million in 2003 and AIDS deaths soared to 62,000 in 2005 from 36,000 in 2003.
Piot slammed the response in a region which has seen the number of infections rise 20-fold in a decade.
“The responses has been fragile and insufficient,” he said.
But he added leaders across the world were far more aware of the crisis and spending to combat AIDS had touched $8 billion this year compared with $250 million in 1996.
'Smell the coffee'
“UNAIDS and governments should wake up and smell and the coffee,” Anjali Gopalan, executive director of the Naaz Foundation, a leading Indian HIV group, said.
“If there is so much money, why can’t we combat the disease? Why is there such a desperate situation? UNAIDS and governments must be made more accountable about where the money is going.”
The outlook on accessibility of anti-retroviral drugs for people in developing nations is looking brighter, the U.N. said.
“Because of recent treatment scale-up since the end of 2003, between 250,000 and 350,000 deaths were averted in 2005.”
But it added too many HIV-positive people were missing out, with just one in 10 Africans and one in seven Asians who need anti-retroviral treatment actually receiving it.
Two decades into the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the report said that in many parts of the world, including southern Africa and South Asia, knowledge about HIV transmission was alarmingly low.
The outgoing chief of India’s official National Aids Control Organisation, S.Y. Quraishi, said 70 percent of Indian sex workers either did not know what a condom was or how to use one.
“If the situation remains unchanged, India could have an estimated 50 million HIV cases by 2025,” he said.