The AIDS epidemic shows no signs of abating, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, and political action to fight the virus is failing, according to a report released.
An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV worldwide, the United Nations' update on the deadly disease shows. Five million became infected with HIV and 3 million died in 2003 alone, the highest figures yet.
Along with southern Africa, where one in five adults is living with HIV/AIDS, the report notes a new wave of HIV epidemics in China, India, Indonesia and Russia.
Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for the majority of the new cases in 2003 -- 3 million new infections and 2.3 million deaths.
About 30 percent of people with HIV/AIDS in the world live in southern Africa, which has only 2 percent of the world's population. South Africa itself was home to an estimated 5.3 million people with HIV at the end of 2002 -- the most of any country, the report says. It puts the infection rates in Botswana and Swaziland at almost 39 percent.
"It is quite clear that our current global efforts remain inadequate for an epidemic that is continuing to spiral out of control," said Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, the United Nations group responsible for coordinating global efforts to fight the disease.
"AIDS is tightening its grip on southern Africa and threatening other regions of the world. Today's report warns regions experiencing newer HIV epidemics that they can either act now or pay later -- as Africa is now having to pay," Piot said.
The report said that "spending and political action has improved dramatically in recent years, but improvements are still far too small and slow in coming to adequately respond to the growing global epidemic. ... Rapid scale-up of treatment access is urgently needed to help avoid the devastating effects of millions of anticipated illnesses and deaths."
The United States' emergency plan on AIDS is cited as a positive response to fighting the disease. But the report says little is being done in other areas to implement basic prevention efforts.
"Prevention resources remain scarce, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where, outside of Senegal and Uganda, few prevention success stories can be identified. In many of the hardest-hit countries, there are no national orphan programs in place, coverage of voluntary counseling and testing is threadbare, and prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission is virtually non-existent," the report said.
Injected-drug use and unsafe sex are spurring a new wave of epidemics in China, India, Indonesia and Russia and there are "many clear warning signs that Eastern Europe and Central Asia could become home to serious new HIV epidemics," the report says.
It adds that the virus is spreading in areas where, in the past, there was little or no HIV present, and the rapid spread of HIV in places like China, Indonesia and Vietnam is an example of how quickly an epidemic can erupt.