LONDON // More people than ever are living with the Aids virus but this is largely because of better access to drugs that keep HIV patients alive and well for many years, the United Nations Aids programme said.
In its annual report on the pandemic, UNAids said the number of people dying of the disease fell to 1.8 million in 2010, from a peak of 2.2 million in the mid-2000s.
The UNAids director, Michel Sidibe, said the past 12 months had been a "game-changing year" in the global Aids fight.
About 2.5 million deaths have been averted in poor and middle-income countries since 1995 because of drugs being introduced and access to them improving, according to UNAids.
Much of that success has come in the past two years as the numbers of people getting treatment has increased rapidly.
"We've never had a year when there has been so much science, so much leadership and such results in one year," Mr Sidibe said.
"Even in this time of public finance crises and uncertainty about funding, we're seeing results. We are seeing more countries than ever before [achieving] significant reductions in new infections and stabilising their epidemics."
Since the beginning of the Aids pandemic in the 1980s, more than 60 million people have been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus that causes Aids. HIV can be controlled for many years with cocktails of drugs, but there is no cure.
The UNAids report said 34 million people around the world had HIV in 2010, up from 33.3 million in 2009.
Among the most dramatic changes was the leap in the number of people getting treatment with drugs when they need it.
Of the 14.2 million people eligible for treatment in low- and middle-income countries, around 6.6 million are now receiving it, UNAids said, and 11 poor and middle income countries now have universal access to HIV treatment, with coverage of 80 per cent or more.
This compares with 36 per cent of the 15 million people needing treatment in 2009 who received drugs.
"In just one year we have added 1.4 million people to treatment," said Adrian Lovett of the anti-poverty campaign group ONE. He said the figures showed "huge progress" but also underlined "the major push needed now in order to turn the corner in this epidemic".