Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday called for action to prevent children contracting the HIV virus from their mothers, particularly in impoverished countries with a shortage of retroviral drugs. The Catholic Church faces criticism for ruling out use of condoms that can prevent HIV transmission.
"I am thinking in particular of the many children who contract the virus from their own mothers, even though there are therapies to avoid this," the pope said in front of 5,000 faithful at a general audience in the Vatican.
Benedict said the AIDS epidemic was particularly acute "in impoverished regions where access to effective medicine is difficult" and hailed "numerous initiatives that are involved in the context of an ecclesiastical mission".
The World Health Organisation recommends mothers affected by the virus and their children take retrovirals during breastfeeding to lower the risk.
AIDS groups frequently criticise the Catholic Church for ruling out the use of contraception as a way of preventing transmission of the virus.
Around 30 percent of AIDS treatment centres in the world are Catholic.