"We appear to be losing the fight against AIDS at the moment," said United States Health Secretary Tommy Thompson, marking World AIDS Day in Zambia, one of the worst-hit nations.
"We need to redouble our efforts. This war has more casualties than any other war as we are losing three million people every year," Thompson said.
Elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for "lightning" action to fight AIDS as millions of people marked World AIDS Day around the world with parades and prayers.
While China aired its first officially backed TV advertisement for condoms, the Vatican said fidelity, chastity and abstinence were the best ways to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in a "pan-sexualist society”.
At least six million people need
In a clear reference to condoms, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, said information campaigns should not be "based on policies that foster immoral and hedonistic lifestyles and behaviour, favouring the spread of the evil."
World AIDS Day came amid news of a new $5.5 billion emergency strategy to supply badly needed drugs to fight a disease now infecting 40 million people around the world.
At least six million people living with HIV-AIDS in developing countries need anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment urgently to stay alive and healthy, but only between 300,000 and 400,000 are getting the costly drugs.
The UN plan aims to get ARV treatment to half the six million people by the end of 2005.
"Eight thousand people die every day and we recognise this as a moral imperative to act," Dr Bjorn Melgaard, a senior World Health Organisation (WHO) official, told reporters in Bangkok. "It is do-able. We believe it should be done and can be done."
"Working in Africa, you have to be pathologically optimistic. A pessimist doesn't survive here"
Africa director, WHO
Estimates released by the United Nations last week showed deaths and new cases reached unprecedented levels in 2003 and were set to rise further as the epidemic maintains its deadly grip on sub-Saharan Africa and spreads across Eastern Europe and Asia.
AIDS will have killed about three million people this year. Five million more will have been infected.
Sub-Saharan Africa remains the worst affected region with about 3.2 million new infections and 2.3 million deaths in 2003.
Ebrahim Samba, WHO's Africa director, said, "Working in Africa, you have to be pathologically optimistic. A pessimist doesn't survive here," he said.
The disease is spreading even faster in the Asia-Pacific region where one million people were infected this year, taking the total to more than seven million.
Several countries, including China and India, face major epidemics unless effective action is taken, experts say.