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South African bishop proposes condoms as 'greater good' AIDS solution

A Catholic bishop in South Africa has suggested listing the Church's ban on condoms in a bid to halt the spread of the deadly HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Bishop Kevin Dowling said the AIDS crisis in South Africa - where an estimated 1600 people are infected by HIV daily - required that the Catholic Church challenge people to act responsibly by "not transmitting death".

The proposal forms part of a draft policy on combating HIV/AIDS to be discussed by bishops in southern Africa on 24 July which would, if accepted, be published as an official pastoral statement.

"I do not expect what we have said in the draft to get universal approval among the bishops. It will be contentious," said Dowling, joint coordinator of the bishop's AIDS office.

Dowling's position stems from his exposure to the ravages of HIV/AIDS around the platinum mines and informal settlements near Rustenburg, in the North West province. About half the people in the area are HIV positive, according to statistics from the local Catholic clinic.

"Every week I am with people dying in their huts and shacks, mothers and emaciated babies. I am with them all the time," Dowling told London's Sunday Times.

Rather than children being orphaned by AIDS, the "greater good" was that condoms were used to prevent HIV transmission and the "mother continue to live", he said.

The draft policy restates the traditional Catholic view that sex should take place only within marriage but adds that condoms should be considered in light of the fact that many people do not accept this value.

The Catholic Church runs the largest network of HIV/AIDS programs in South Africa after the government, according to Dowling. South Africa has the world's largest HIV population, with 4.7 million people, about one in nine, infected.