An annual U.N. report on the World AIDS epidemic says sub-Saharan Africa remains the hardest-hit region of the world, while the epidemic continues to grow in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where Russia and Ukraine are the worst hit.

In 2005, there were five million new infections of HIV. Sub-Saharan Africa remains hardest-hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with two-thirds of the world's HIV-infected population.

Paul de Lay, director of evaluation for UNAIDS, says the numbers of people worldwide who are infected continue to grow.

"Over 40 million people are HIV-infected and still living, and 25 million people have died since the beginning, the official beginning of the epidemic, which was in 1981," he said.

Mr. De Lay says, this year, more than three million people have died. The UNAIDS report says about half of those deaths were in Sub-Saharan Africa.

"Some of the countries we are most worried about, particularly in southern Africa, are Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland. In South Africa, the rate has gone up to 30 percent of adults, who are now infected, compared to 26 percent two years ago. Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana over 40 percent of adults are infected," he explained.

Mr. De Lay says far greater prevention efforts are needed to slow the epidemic. He says there are new indications that prevention works, citing examples in Africa.

"For the first time in 10 years, we are seeing the HIV/AIDS epidemic at national level, countrywide level, starting to decline. This is in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Haiti," he said.

Mr. De Lay says that, until this year, the only country that could be considered a success story was Uganda. These results in other countires, says the expert, were the result of very intensive prevention programs.

Mr. DeLay says the World Health Organization carried out an intensive program to put more people on anti-retroviral therapy. He says, as a result, 250,000 to 300,000 people who would have died this year are on treatment and starting to live normal lives.

However, the U.N. report says, treatment reamains out of reach in sub-Saharan Africa, where only one in 10 people needing treatment received it in 2005.

Mr. de Lay says there is improvement where young people are having fewer partners, where they are more likely to use condoms, and where they are delaying the age of their first sexual encouters.

Sheila Sisulu, the deputy executive director of the World Food Program was also present at the presentation of the report in Rome.

"The longer they stay in school, the less likely they are to become infected with HIV and AIDS. They delay their sexual activity, and they stay away from early marriages and the complexities of that. So general education is critical," she said.

Ms. Sisulu pointed out the vital role that food and education play in combating AIDS, and said good nutrition is essential for treatment to be effective.

The U.N. report cites growing epidemics in HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, particularly Russia and Ukraine.

Russia has the largest AIDS epidemic in Europe, largely affecting young people between the ages of 15 and 29. The report says the large number of young people injecting drugs has contributed to the spread of the disease. The report says both the drug problem and the HIV epidemic need to be urgently addressed.