The United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is reporting world AIDS deaths and new HIV infections have each dropped 21 percent since the peak of the AIDS pandemic, the most optimistic report the group has ever issued.

Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS program, says in a news release, "We have seen a massive scale-up in access to HIV treatment, which has had a dramatic effect on the lives of people everywhere."

Life-saving HIV treatments have saved 2.5 million lives in low- and middle-income nations since 1995 and were administered to 1.35 million more people in 2010 than in 2009. Still, 53 percent of people who need HIV/AIDS treatments -- 7.6 million people -- don't have access to them, partially explaining last year's 1.8 million AIDS deaths.

In all, 34 million people now have HIV, with 2.7 million new infections in the past year. But UNAIDS says the decrease in deaths and new infections means the AIDS pandemic is at a tipping point, and with proper action, millions of future deaths can be averted.

"Just a few years ago, talking about ending the AIDS epidemic in the near term seemed impossible," Sidibe says in a foreword to the new report. "Science, political support, and community responses are starting to deliver clear and tangible results ... [but] to reach these targets and bring the end of AIDS in sight we must step on the accelerator."

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