Paris — Great strides in preventing AIDS deaths and new infections risk being halted, even reversed, if funding and focus continues to dwindle, warns the UN.

Announcing the lowest annual death toll in two decades for 2017, and a record number of people on life-saving treatment, UNAIDS on Wednesday cautioned that a creeping “complacency” was threatening these global achievements.

“We are sounding the alarm,” the agency’s executive director, Michel Sidibe, said at the unveiling of a global status report in Paris ahead of next week’s International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam. “Entire regions are falling behind, the huge gains we made for children are not being sustained,” he lamented.

The report showed the number of people living with the virus grew from 36.3-million in 2016 to 36.9-million in 2017 thanks to widening access to antiretroviral therapy (ART).

There were 1.8-million new HIV infections in 2017, a decrease from 1.9-million in 2016 and 3.4-million at the peak of the epidemic in 1996.

The number of deaths decreased by 50,000 year on year to 940,000, compared with 1.9-million in 2005, when a mere 2.1-million infected people had access to ART.

In 2017, the number of people on treatment jumped to a record 21.7-million, said UNAIDS. “We are not moving at the pace we had set ourselves,” Sidibe said. “We wanted 30-million people on treatment by 2020.”

But for this, money is needed. And the global effort is short about $7bn per year, according to UNAIDS.

In 2017, about $20.6bn was available for AIDS programmes in low-and middle-income countries that funded about 56% from their own budgets, said the report. This was up 8% from 2016. However, there had been “no significant new commitments … and as a result the one-year rise in resources is unlikely to continue”, it said.

“Without these resources, there is a big risk of the epidemic rebounding” and an increase in mortality, Sidibe said.