The United Nations has set an ambitious goal of zero new HIV infections and zero AIDS-related deaths by 2015 as the next stage of the war against the deadly virus, a new report said Friday.
The U.N. Secretary-General's 2011 Report on AIDS highlights new strategies in the fight against the disease and urges universal access to treatment, care and support for those infected with the virus, and an end to discrimination against them.
The report, released by the United Nations office in New Delhi, noted an overall global decline in HIV infections, but cautioned against any complacency, noting that every day more than 7,000 people, including 1,000 children, are newly infected by the virus.
"The number of people newly infected with HIV declined by 19 percent in the decade before December 2009, with at least 33 countries experiencing a decline in HIV incidence of at least 25 percent," the report said.
But despite the overall decline, the number of infected people is increasing in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East and parts of Asia.
"No country has escaped the devastation of this truly global epidemic," the report said in a summary of the 30 years since AIDS emerged as a major health challenge across the world.
In those three decades, AIDS has claimed more than 25 million lives and more than 60 million people have been infected by HIV.
But health experts, speaking at the function marking the release of the report, said all was not doom and gloom and there was plenty of good news coming from AIDS prevention and treatment programs worldwide.
"The world is beginning to see a reversal of the spread of HIV and investments are beginning to pay off. Globally infection rates are falling," said Charles Gilks, head of the UNAIDS program in India.
Mother-to-child transmission is declining while treatment coverage is increasing, with about 6 million infected people getting AIDS drugs, he said.
The report said the future strategy includes five major goals: working toward zero new infections, zero AIDS-related deaths by 2015, ending discrimination against people infected with HIV, empowering women and girls to know their rights to prevent them from getting infected, and universal access to treatment.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged governments across the world to pledge more money to fight AIDS, noting that funding has remained stagnant at around $16 billion since 2007 despite rising costs of drugs and treatment.
The report noted steps taken in several countries to decriminalize homosexuality and provide an enabling environment so that people living with HIV could seek treatment without the fear of being isolated.
"There is progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, but it would be premature to declare victory," said Peter Piot, a former executive director of UNAIDS.
This is the third major U.N. initiative on AIDS in the past decade. It earlier launched "Three by Five" aimed at providing antiretroviral treatment to 3 million people by 2005. A second initiative was to provide universal access to AIDS drugs by 2010.