Aids 'may be God's challenge to care'
The South African health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, has said that Aids may be an opportunity provided by God for South Africa to care for its people.
Launching an interfaith initiative to combat the epidemic through counselling and information this was her message to religious leaders.
It is estimated that 4.7 million South Africans, one in nine, have the virus that causes Aids, possibly more than any other country in the world.
The South African AIDS foundation blames the high numbers on social and family disruption following apartheid. Migrant labour coupled with high mobility and a good transport infrastructure also allows the virus to spread easily. It also says that high poverty and low education levels, result in more risk taking behaviour and commercial sex work.
Dr Tshabalala-Msimang has been at the centre of controversy, being blamed by Aids activists for not providing antiretroviral drugs to the general population under a burdened and transforming health system.
The government has said it would be too expensive for the numbers involved, and has questioned the drugs' effectiveness.
In a much-publicised civil disobedience campaign, the activist Treatment Action Campaign has filed manslaughter charges against her and another minister, Alec Erwin, for deaths from Aids-related illnesses they say could have been prevented.
"Perhaps HIV and Aids is God's way of challenging us to care for our people, to support the dying and to appreciate the gift of life," Dr Tshabalala-Msimang said.
The minister added that Aids "could also be a God-given opportunity for moral and spiritual growth, a time to review our assumptions about sin and morality".
Employing a similar line of argument to campaigners in the UK that highlight the work of faith communities, she pointed out that religious leaders were in an advantageous position to disseminate information on the disease.