Dozens of activists were arrested outside the White House
as they protested against the US Aids policies [AFP]

Experts and activists are using World Aids Day to press home the message that the world cannot relax in its work to treat the illness and slow its spread.

Recent statistics from UNAids, the UN umbrella body overseeing the global campaign, show that the number of people with the disease peaked in the late 1990s.

Last month, the body also reduced its estimate of the worldwide figure of people living with HIV or Aids from nearly 40 million to 33 million.

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The number of new infections had decreased from three million in the late 1990s to about 2.5 million in 2007.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had said that the number of people in Africa, home to more than two-thirds of people with HIV/Aids, receiving antiretroviral (AVR) drugs has increased by 54 per cent from 2005 to 2006.

The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria said on Friday that in 2006 the number of people on ARV drugs worldwide doubled to 1.4 million.

"Still losing ground"

Such statistics have raised fears that people might become complacent about the disease.

James Shelton of the US Agency for International Development (USAid) said on Saturday in the medical journal The Lancet: "Despite substantial progress against Aids worldwide, we are still

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losing ground."

Shelton said that despite progress in providing drugs, treatment is still available to only about 10 per cent of those in need.

He said that in developing nations, "the number of new infections continues to dwarf the numbers who start anti-retroviral therapy".

Highlighting need

Events to mark World Aids Day are being held in numerous countries on Saturday.

Indonesia launched its first national campaign to promote the use of condoms, which currently account for less then one per cent of contraception use.

The nation has the fastest-growing HIV epidemic in Asia.

In Washington DC, dozens of activists were arrested during protests against the domestic Aids policy of George Bush, the US president.

Al Jazeera's Mike Kirsch reported that the activists were calling Bush's attempts to harness the disease a "disgrace".

Demonstrators highlighted the fact that one in 50 residents in Washington DC has HIV.

They said this figure had been reached because there had been no publicly funded needle exchange programme for drug addicts in the capital, unlike other areas of the country.

Funding gap

Funding for Aids prevention and treatment is an issue globally. The UN estimates that there is an $8 billion shortfall worldwide.

In Indonesia they are pushing home
the message to use condoms [Reuters]

To meet the Group of Eight (G8) goal of providing universal access of ARVs by 2010, nearly $27bn more would be needed to be pledged on top of the $15.4bn already provided.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said on Friday: "I call for leadership among all governments in fully understanding the epidemic - so that resources go where they are most needed.

"And I call for leadership at all levels to scale up towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies