The United Nations announced Nov. 23 that new HIV infections have declined globally, news that experts believe may mark a turning point in the epidemic.

The U.N. report stated that 33.3 million people worldwide contracted the disease in 2009, down slightly from 33.4 million the year before. The report said 56 countries had either stabilized or achieved significant declines in new infections.

Moreover, the number of people on HIV/AIDS treatment increased sevenfold from 2004 through 2009, from 700,000 to 5.2 million.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe says this is proof that U.N.’s efforts to curb the spread of the disease has paid off.

“For the first time, we can say that we are breaking the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic. We have halted and begun to reverse the epidemic. Fewer people are becoming infected with HIV and fewer people are dying from AIDS,” Sidibe said in a statement.

Efforts seem to be especially fruitful in Africa as 22 countries showed a decreased rate and 11 showed a stable rate. No African countries showed an increased rate according to the report.

The good news still comes with bad news. While the rate of infection seems to be declining worldwide, it’s still spreading faster than what doctors can treat. According to the report, new infections still outpace treatment success 2 to 1 with over 10 million people still waiting for treatment.

In addition, questions still remain over whether this progress can continue given the world’s economic climate. Funding for HIV/AIDS treatment decreased from $7.7 billion in 2008 to $7.6 billion in 2009. The U.N. estimates that it needs $15 billion to fight the disease worldwide.

Some experts say that industrialized countries like the United States have been spread too thin trying to provide treatment options to under-developed nations and that it’s time for those nations to kick in. Others believe that’s an unrealistic expectation for countries where the standard of living is remarkably low.

“People should not have to spend themselves into poverty to stay alive,” Cornelius Baker, expert on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, told The Los Angeles Times.