Anti-retroviral drugs have cut deaths caused by HIV by more than 60% in China, researchers have announced.

Writing in The Lancet , Chinese scientists from the National Scientists of Aids Control revealed that the overall HIV mortality rates in treatment-eligible adults with HIV decreased from 39.3 per 100 people in 2002 to 14.2 per 100 people in 2009, a difference of 63.8%.

China introduced free anti-retroviral drugs in 2002, reaching more than 60% of patients by 2009.

Of 323,252 people reported as having HIV in China by the end of 2009, 145 484 (45%) were identified as treatment-eligible and included in this analysis, said the researchers.

But the experts have said that a lot more work needs to be done, and that there was an “urgent need exists for earlier HIV diagnosis and better access to treatment for injecting drug users and patients infected with HIV sexually, especially before they become severely immunosuppressed”.

Chinese government data shows that HIV/AIDS has topped the list of deaths caused by notifiable infectious diseases every year since 2008, but nearly 80% of those dying from HIV over the past five years received no anti-retroviral therapy.