Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Njongonkulu Ndungane has challenged President Thabo Mbeki and government ministers to speak out about HIV/AIDS at every public engagement.
Ndungane issued this challenge shortly after prominent health economist Alan Whiteside, addressing clergy at a public lecture on HIV/AIDS, said the church should demand better political leadership in the fight against the disease.
Responding to Whiteside, Ndungane said President Thabo Mbeki should tell every minister that whenever you speak, you must speak about HIV/AIDS - just as we've told our clergy they must talk about it from their pulpits.
As a church we've always said that HIV/AIDS is a national human emergency. It requires all sectors of society to respond as if we've got an enemy on our borders and are marshalling all our forces.
Whiteside, director of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division at the University of Natal, spoke to about 100 clerics at St Cyprian's Anglican Church in Retreat on the causes and consequences of HIV/AIDS.
He said the church, which itself provided leadership to society, should put pressure on political leaders at the most senior levels - the president, ministers and our provincial governments - to tackle the HIV/AIDS crisis.
We need to start at the top and if we can't make a difference there, there are many other levels where we can make a difference, he said.
He referred to Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni curtailed the HIV/AIDS epidemic by speaking about HIV at every opportunity.
Whiteside said antiretrovirals were not a panacea, but rather part of the response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
The antiretroviral debate had been oversimplified, with the Treatment Action Campaign on one side calling for the drugs and the government balking on the other.
The truth was somewhere between the two positions.
One of the obstacles to providing the treatment was that some people would rather die of AIDS than come out in the open about their disease.
Others were the inadequate health infrastructure in some areas and the development of drug-resistant strains of HIV/AIDS.
Problems could arise because South Africa and Botswana could afford to provide antiretrovirals, but other countries in the region could not.
What happens if we see medical migrants - people coming here for treatment? Whiteside said.
He challenged the church to come up with innovative responses in fighting HIV/AIDS. One possibility was to establish treatment centres at churches where people taking antiretrovirals could be counselled to ensure they took the drugs.
Ndungane said South Africa should follow the example of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
His aim is that every Brazilian should have three meals a day.
We should make that commitment, too, saying each person in South Africa should have at least one meal a day.