Global numbers of people with AIDS may have been over exaggerated, according to news reports.

The number in 2006, estimated to be 40 million people, may have been 6.2 million over the real amount.

The decline is largely just on paper — the new numbers are the result of improved methodology, which shows the spread of AIDS has been losing momentum for almost a decade.

Speaking to The Australian Kevin De Cock, director of the World Health Organisation’s AIDS department, welcomed the fall in deaths: “For the first time, we are seeing a decline in global AIDS deaths.”

Much of the global drop in AIDS cases is due to revised estimates from India, which this year slashed its numbers in half, from about six million cases to about three million, and to new data from countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite the report, huge regional differences remain and Africa still remains the centre of the epidemic.

AIDS is still the leading cause of death across the continent, affecting men, women and children and according to africaaidswatch.org, 13000 people a day died from the disease in 2005.

Dr Jim Chin, a clinical professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, told the Australian that it was hard to tell if the lowered numbers were evidence that AIDS treatment and prevention strategies were working, or if the decrease was because of a correction of previous overestimates.