The number of people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide has hit record levels according to a report issued by UNAIDS this week.

More than 38 million people were reported living with HIV in 2003, with three million people dying from the illness in the same year.

The AIDS epidemic continues to outpace the global response, according to the report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

No region of the world has been spared. The epidemic remains extremely dynamic, growing and changing character as the virus exploits new opportunities for transmission, the report stated.

Major challenges outlined by the report included the female face of the epidemic, the education of young people, the upscaling of treatment and prevention programs, tackling stigma and discrimination and tackling the neglect of orphans.

Although HIV was on the rise in Australia, the United States and Western Europe, the report noted the great majority of people living with HIV in high-income countries who need antiretroviral therapy have access to it, so they are staying healthy and surviving longer than infected people elsewhere.

The vast majority of cases globally are in sub-Saharan Africa where only 10 percent of the world’s population includes two-thirds of all people living with HIV.

The report was issued in anticipation of the UNAIDS XV International AIDS Confer-ence, which will be held in Bangkok from 11 to 17 July.

Although Thailand has proved a model in the fight against AIDS in the region, the epidemic is expanding rapidly in Asia, according to the report, with 7.4 million people living with HIV in the continent in 2003.

Access to treatments is a key issue in the report. In countries such as Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, average life expectancy is predicted to drop below 35 years without retroviral programs.

Executive director of AFAO Don Baxter will be among the Australian delegates attending the Bangkok conference, as part of a satellite session entitled Turning Back The Tide -“ Addressing The Rises In HIV Infections In Major Gay Communities.

The intention is to hear what other organisations in other major cities are doing and learn from one another, Baxter told the Star.

ACON will be represented by Stevie Clayton, Stephen Gallagher and David McGuigan, who will focus on the increase in HIV infections in Australia, improving access for people living with HIV/AIDS and the challenges of HIV prevention.

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