GENEVA, Nov 20, 2012 (AFP) - Twenty-five countries, many in hard-hit Africa, have at least halved new HIV infections in the past decade, with articular progress made toward protecting children from the deadly virus, the United Nations said Tuesday.
"It is becoming evident that achieving zero new HIV infections in children is possible," Michel Sidibe, the executive director of UNAIDS, said in a statement.
"I am excited that far fewer babies are being born with HIV. We are moving from despair to hope," he added.
In its annual report on the state of the global pandemic, UNAIDS stressed that 25 low- and middle-income countries had managed to at least halve their rate of new HIV infections
More than half of those countries were in Africa, the region most affected by HIV, the agency said, pointing out for instance that Malawi had cut new infections by 73 percent, while Botswana had seen a 68-percent drop.
Globally, new HIV infections fell to 2.5 million last year from 2.6 million in 2010 and represented a 20-percent drop from 2001, UNAIDS said.
"The pace of progress is quickening. What used to take a decade is now being achieved in 24 months," Sidibe said.
Particular progress had been made toward bringing down the number of children newly infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa -- a region that today is home to 90 percent of the world's infected youngsters, UNAIDS said.
Between 2009 and 2011, the number of children in the region infected with the virus that causes AIDS dropped 24 percent, with a number of countries, including Kenya and South Africa, seeing falls of between 40 and 59 percent.
The number of global deaths linked to AIDS has meanwhile also fallen sharply in recent years, the agency said.
In 2011, 1.7 million people died from AIDS-related causes worldwide -- down 24 percent from the peak in 2005 and nearly six percent below the 2010 level, according to the report published ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1.
"A new era of hope has emerged in countries and communities across the world that had previously been devastated by AIDS," said the agency, which spearheads the international campaign against the disease.