South Africa's death rate doubled over the last decade due to the spread of AIDS, the health minister said on Tuesday, blaming the crisis on government policies under former president Thabo Mbeki.
"In 11 years, from 1997 to 2008, the rate of death has doubled in South Africa. That is obviously something that cannot but worry a person," Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi told reporters at parliament in Cape Town.
He said that in 1997 the total number of deaths stood around 300,000. Last year the figure was about 756,000.
Motsoaledi said the figures called for a "massive change in behaviour and attitude" toward AIDS among South Africans.
"On the figures, it's shocking. As to whether it has been affected by what we did in the past 10 years, to me that's obvious," he said, according to the Sapa news agency.
"I don't think we'd have been here if we'd approached the problem in a different way," he said. "It's a really obvious question. Yes, our attitude toward HIV/AIDS put us here where we are."
Most AIDS-related deaths were among young people, especially women, he said. About 57 percent of child deaths in 2007 were HIV-related, the minister added.
The frank remarks by Motsoaledi highlighted the sharp break that President Jacob Zuma has taken from Mbeki in the fight against AIDS.
Mbeki questioned whether HIV causes AIDS, in spite of scientific evidence. His health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang promoted the use of vegetables above anti-retrovirals which she said were toxic, while hundreds of thousands died without access to treatment.
While South Africa now has the world's largest anti-retroviral programme, nearly one million people are still believed to need treatment.