Worldwide HIV infections have reached a peak but sufferers such as Western gay people should not rely so heavily on anti viral drugs, according to research.

A report in health journal, The Lancet, from the Centre for Global Health Research in Toronto, suggests a decline in the number of infections in India, areas of Africa and America.

One of the researchers, Prabhat Jha, admitted there is evidence of a global downfall of the disease, “There is now increasing evidence the epidemic is turning around, or it can’t get any worse in some settings.”

But he did warn against the reliance of drugs as protection, “In the West, with some gay men, there was an attitude of ‘I have treatment, I’ve got a pill, so I don’t need to use condoms,’ and the epidemic starts creeping back up. Imagine that writ large in Africa.”

“So we don’t know the future of AIDS in the antiretroviral era yet.”

India and Africa account for three quarters of HIV cases in the world, but the study demonstrates a downward trend in Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa.

His fellow author, James Shelton, told the Boston Globe the main reason for the decline in new infections was due to the natural cycle of the disease. He drew attention to changes in behaviour of high risk groups such as drug users and sex workers in Thailand and Cambodia as well as Malawi, Ethiopia and Haiti where there has been an increase in safe sex programmes.

Mr Shelton said: “It gives us hope that behaviour can change on a large scale and can affect the course of the pandemic.”

Mr Jha added, “Sex workers are not reporting fewer clients, but we believe that serious efforts through peer intervention programmes to reach sex workers has led many more to protect themselves with condoms,”

However, a UNAIDS spokeswoman advised that the research could have missed trends in smaller African nations, she said: “Their focus on the bigger countries could mask the fact that there could be serious problems in other countries.”