UN Cuts AIDS Figures to 33 Million

The United Nations has sharply reduced its estimation of the size of the world's AIDS epidemic in a new report published Monday. The revised figures particularly reflect new numbers for the virus in India - but also indicate strides in fighting the epidemic worldwide. For VOA, Lisa Bryant has more from Paris.

The new study by the United Nations organization UNAIDS cuts the number of infections to about 33 million - down from its estimated 39.5 million in 2006.

Peter Ghys who heads the epidemiology and analysis division of UNAIDS in Geneva says the new number largely reflects reestimates in India - which cut the numbers of HIV infections to 2.5 million people. Still, Ghys says those figures don't reflect larger trends.

"First of all it shows globally the prevalence of HIV - that is to say the percent of those infected with HIV virus - has been at the same level more or less for several years. Globally it stands at 0.8 percent," said Ghys. "However, in Africa that percentage is a lot higher - but it's interesting to see the prevalence level has actually declined in Africa."

Overall, Africa remains the hardest hit by the virus. Roughly 22.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live HIV/AIDS - 68 percent of the global total - and two thirds of all new infections are recorded in sub-Saharan Africa. Asia and the Caribbean region also are hard hit by the virus.

But Ghys says the level of the virus is declining among young Africans, in particular. And countries like Uganda, Zimbabwe and Kenya have actually witnessed drops in the number of new cases.

"We also have evidence from behavior surveys when people are asked about their sexual behavior... we have in the report specifically for African countries there is a real change where people are reporting [fewer] sexual partners and also reporting increased condom use. So that is quite encouraging," said Ghys.

While drugs are also helping more people to live longer with the virus, it still remains a major challenge - and international donations to help fight it remain far less than AIDS activists say is needed.