A United Nations study is showing the first signs of success in the global fight against AIDS. Funds available for the fight have reached an all-time high. But, the good news is tempered by word that the epidemic is still spreading.
Speaking to representatives of 127 countries Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the global response to HIV/AIDS as "significant". Officials say $8 billion is being spent this year, four times as much as the total just four years ago.
The number of people receiving AIDS education has doubled in that time.
But Mr. Annan says those impressive gains have not been enough to contain the spread of the epidemic, which killed 3.1 million people in 2004.
"Last year saw more new infections and more AIDS-related deaths than ever before," he said. "Indeed, HIV and AIDS expanded at an accelerating rate, and on every continent. Treatment and prevention efforts were nowhere near enough."
At the same time, Mr. Annan acknowledged there are isolated pockets of good news. He says progress in several countries has shown that it is possible to break the cycle of new HIV infections.
"We have seen what happens when prevention programs succeed, as they have in Brazil, Cambodia and India," he said. "We are witnessing encouraging signs in the same direction in a number of countries around the world, from the Bahamas to Cameroon, Kenya and Zambia."
The secretary-general also noted progress in providing access to treatment. He said 700,000 people in low and middle-income countries had access to anti-retroviral therapy last year.
But the director of the U.N. AIDS program, Dr. Peter Piot, said those small successes cannot mask the grim overall picture. He says the record 4.9 million people newly infected in the past year, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa, point to the wide and growing gap between need and action.
"Until, and unless, we control this epidemic, it will continue to expand and worsen for decades, killing unbelievably large numbers and wrecking entire societies," he said.
Dr. Piot said the epidemic could defeat us, unless there is an exceptional response from world leaders and the public.
The United States remains the world's largest donor to the AIDS fight. Last year's U.S. HIV/AIDS budget exceeded $2.4 billion, more than 25 percent of the worldwide total.