Medicine for HIV/Aids patients is prepared by a nurse. A report has praised South Africa for a decline in the number of children newly infected with HIV. Picture: Reuters

Pretoria - The world is making significant progress in coming to grips with the HIV epidemic, but in many countries stigma and lack of human rights remain.

The UN Joint Programme on HIV and Aids launched the 2012 Global Epidemic Report on Tuesday and reported significant declines in new infections among adults and children, with high numbers of people placed on antiretrovirals.

Still the region most severely affected, sub-Saharan Africa has shown progress with about 1.8 million new HIV infections in 2011 compared with 2.4 million in 2001.

Between 2005 and 2011, the number of people dying from Aids-related causes in sub-Saharan Africa declined by a third from 1.8 million to 1.2 million.

Since 2004, the number of tuberculosis-related deaths among people living with HIV has fallen by 28 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.

However, while there have been victories in the treatment and prevention arena, fear, ignorance and discrimination – including abusive treatment and violence – remain in a number of countries.

According to data collected, more than half of the people living with HIV in Zambia reported having been verbally abused as a result of their HIV status. One in five people living with HIV in Nigeria and Ethiopia reported feeling suicidal.

According to a nine-country study by the International Labour Organisation and the Global Network of People Living with HIV, the percentage of people living with HIV who reported discriminatory attitudes among employers ranged from 8 percent in Estonia to 54 percent in Malaysia.

As of this year, 60 countries have adopted laws that specifically criminalise HIV transmission, with about 600 convictions reported.

According to a global review this year, more than 40 percent of UN member states (78 of 193 countries) criminalise same-sex relations, with some permitting imposition of the death penalty for convictions under such laws.

Most countries have laws deeming some aspect of sex work to be illegal, and these are often used to justify harassment, extortion and violence against sex workers, placing them at increased risk of HIV.

Some countries have reformed laws to decriminalise populations at higher risk: Portugal decriminalised drug possession and use in 2000, while in 2003 New Zealand adopted a law that decriminalised sex work.

The report praised South Africa for declines in the number of children newly infected with HIV, which went down by between 40 percent and 59 percent from 2009 to 2011.

According to the report, 330 000 children were infected with HIV in 2011, almost halving the rate since 2003.

More than 90 percent of the children who acquired HIV in 2011 live in sub-Saharan Africa, where the number of children newly infected fell by 24 percent from 2009 to 2011.

More people began antiretroviral therapy in 2011 than in any previous year, with the number of people living with HIV and receiving treatment rising by 21 percent compared with data from 2010. - Health E-News