Improved planning, funding and leadership is needed to combat the worldwide AIDs epidemic, according to the United Nations.

UNAIDS, which aims to create programmes to combat HIV/AIDs, produced a report today claiming that HIV is still an “exceptional threat” although it is slowing down in some places.

The survey of 126 countries found 38.6 million people have HIV with young people becoming increasing affected.

HIV prevention programmes are failing, the document states, as only 50% of young people know about the disease and just 9% of sexually active gay men receive HIV prevention services.

The report found that condom use had increased and six out of 11 African countries had a decline of at least 25% but sub Saharan Africa remained the worst area for HIV, although Eastern Europe and Asia are rising, especially India.

It calls for better and cheaper access to Anti retroviral therapy, while recognising an increase in use, and pushes for universal access to drugs and vaccines by 2010.

The report comes on the eve of a UN General Assembly meeting on Aids in New York, Dr Peter Piot, UNAIDS executive director said “The actions we take from here are particularly important, as we know with increasing certainty where and how HIV is moving, as well as how to slow the epidemic and reduce its impact.”

In response to the UNAIDS 2006 Report on the global AIDS epidemic, Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust (NAT), said: “Behind the shocking statistics there has been progress in improving access to drugs and in rolling out prevention programmes in developing countries. This shows that interventions can and do work.

“But such efforts must be accompanied by the promotion of human rights.

Across the world, those most at risk of HIV and AIDS are also those most vulnerable to human rights abuses. These include gay men, women, injecting drug users and undocumented migrants.

“NAT urges countries at the United Nations General Assembly high level meeting on AIDS (UNGASS) in New York this week to commit to the International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights.

“The reluctance of many countries to address issues in relation to migration, homosexuality, injecting drug use and sexual violence is increasing the vulnerability of these groups to HIV, and as a result to poverty, sickness and death. Only by putting human rights at the core of the global response to HIV can we address the disproportionate burden of HIV and AIDS on the most vulnerable.”

Terrence Higgins Trust is calling for a renewed focus on prevention and improved access to anti-retroviral treatments in the face of the expanding global epidemic.

THT’s Nick Partridge, speaking from the United Nations comprehensive review and high level meeting on AIDS in New York said:

“Governments and businesses across the World must continue to do more to increase access to anti-retroviral treatments, good sex education and condoms, which we know are vital in reducing the spread of HIV.

“Condoms are the best protection we have against HIV, and in countries where there have been successful condom use campaigns, we have seen a decline in the number of young people becoming infected.

“There are now more people living with HIV than at any time since the epidemic began and this is also true in the UK, where we have record levels of new HIV diagnoses and of people living with the condition.”