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The global AIDS epidemic is still in an early phase, and is likely to kill 68 million people by 2020 unless efforts to prevent and treat the disease are strengthened, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) warned this week (2 July).

Data in the UNAIDS Report on the Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic show that HIV prevalence is climbing significantly higher than previously thought possible in the worst-affected countries, such as Zimbabwe, disproving theories that the epidemic might reach a plateau.

"HIV/AIDS is spreading rapidly in parts of the world where the epidemic had seemed stable or was previously confined to groups at highest risk of infection," says Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS.

Despite this, less than 4 per cent of the 6 million people in the developing world in need of antiretroviral drug therapy are receiving such treatment, states the report.

"The unprecedented destruction wrought by the HIV/AIDS epidemic over the past 20 years will multiply several times in the decades to come, unless the fight against this disease is dramatically expanded," says Piot.

The highest HIV infection rates in the world are found in Botswana, where almost 39 per cent of adults have HIV, up from less than 36 per cent two years ago. The disease is also continuing the spread rapidly into new populations in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe.

The report was released ahead of the International AIDS Conference, which opens in Barcelona on 7 July. It calls for greater action on the part of both governments and the private sector to ensure that treatment reaches those in greatest need.

The cost of treatment must continue to fall, it says, and governments in both the developing world and donor countries must strengthen health infrastructure and create sustainable ways of funding treatment.

"In order to overcome this epidemic on a global scale, the international community must muster even greater political commitment, action, and above all, resources," says Piot.

Report on the Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic

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