Close to five million people were newly infected with the virus in 2005, the annual UNAids/WHO Aids epidemic update said on Monday.

The total number of people with the human immunode?ciency virus (HIV) has reached an estimated all-time high of 40.3 million, the report said.

The number of people living with HIV has increased in all but one region in the past two years. In the Caribbean, the second-most affected region in the world, HIV prevalence overall showed no change in 2005, compared with 2003.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains hardest-hit, and is home to 25.8 million people living with HIV, almost one million more than in 2003. Two-thirds of all people living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa, as are 77% of all women with HIV.

Continuing epidemic

An estimated 2.4 million people died of HIV-related illnesses in this region in 2005, while a further 3.2 million became infected with HIV.

While the epidemic continues to intensify in southern Africa, growing epidemics are under way in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and in East Asia.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains the
world's worst-affected region

Several of the epidemics in Asia and Oceania are increasing, particularly in China, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam. There are also signs that other countries, including Pakistan and Indonesia, could be on the verge of serious epidemics.

The increase in the proportion of women being affected by the epidemic continues. In 2005, 17.5 million women were living with HIV, one million more than in 2003. Of these, 13.5 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.

The widening impact on women is apparent also in South and Southeast Asia, where almost two million women now have HIV, and in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

However, it is not all gloom. There is ample evidence that HIV does yield to determined and concerted interventions.

HIV prevalence

Prevention programmes initiated some time ago are ?nally helping to bring down HIV prevalence in Kenya and Zimbabwe, as well as in urban Haiti.

In the past two years, access to antiretroviral treatment has improved markedly.

GLOBAL SUMMARY

Number of people living with HIV in 2005:
Total 40.3 million
Adults 38.0 million
Women 17.5 million
Children under 15 2.3 million

People newly infected with HIV in 2005:
Total 4.9 million
Adults 4.2 million
Children under 15 700,000

Aids deaths in 2005:
Total 3.1 million
Adults 2.6 million
Children under 15 570,000

Treatment coverage in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Cuba now exceeds 80%.

Despite progress in some places, however, the situation is different in the poorest countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, in Eastern Europe, most of Asia and virtually all of sub-Saharan Africa.

At best, one in 10 Africans and one in seven Asians in need of antiretroviral treatment was receiving it in mid-2005.

However, more than one million people in low- and middle-income countries are now living longer and better lives because they are on antiretroviral treatment.

Because of the recent treatment scale-up since the end of 2003, between 250,000 and 350,000 deaths were averted in 2005. The full effects of the dramatic treatment scale-up during 2005 will be seen only in 2006 and subsequent years.