Access to life-saving anti-retroviral drugs for people with advanced HIV infection is on the rise, but the world is still far away from ensuring universal access to the drugs. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi that a new report by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and UNAIDS is calling for more ambitious national programs to improve the situation.

The number of HIV-positive people on anti-retroviral treatment in low and middle income countries rose to two million in December 2006, a jump of more than 50 percent in just one year.

But a new report on the AIDS pandemic says that only adds up to a meager 28 percent of the seven million people who need the life-saving treatment.

Teguest Guerma, Deputy Director of the HIV/AIDS department of the World Health Organization, a co-author, says much more needs to be done to provide comprehensive treatment to HIV-infected people.

"If this current rate of scale up continues, by 2010 we will only have less than five million people on treatment, said Guerma. "This only represents half of the people estimated to need treatment by that time. We are far from universal access as you can see."

The report by WHO, UNAIDS and UNICEF says the most dramatic improvement was in the world's worst hit region, Sub-Saharan Africa.

Three years ago, only two percent of HIV victims there got the drugs. Now 28 percent are being treated. In South Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia, also hard hit, 19 percent of HIV infected people are getting the drugs. That is a four-fold increase since 2003.

Access to the drugs is as high as 72 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is six percent in North Africa and the Middle East, and 15 percent in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

However, a vast majority of HIV-positive pregnant women, children, and injecting drug users are missing out on the life-saving treatment.

Myo Zin Nyunt, regional HIV/AIDS officer for UNICEF in South Asia, says only 15 percent of the 780,000 children with HIV are on anti-retroviral drugs. He says children need treatment faster than adults because they have undeveloped immune systems.

"In the absence of treatment, one third of them will die within their first year, and half of them will die before they reach their second birthday," he said. "That is why children need anti-retroviral therapy earlier than adults. We know that the treatment is effective, why are we failing?"

The report says prices of anti-retroviral drugs continued to fall last year in poor countries. The report is calling for more ambitious national programs, and greater global mobilization to fight the disease. An estimated 39.5 million people worldwide were living with HIV or AIDS last year.