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Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2006, 16:18 GMT
Row over 'Aids' death certificate
A South African boy with HIV/Aids
More than 10% of South Africans - some 5.5 million people - have HIV
A South African doctor should face a charge of unprofessional conduct for naming Aids on a death certificate against family wishes, officials say.

A complaint was filed with the national health watchdog against Dr Leon Wagner after the woman died in April 2005.

Dr Wagner has not yet entered a plea, saying it is unclear what rule he has broken. The hearing has been adjourned.

A BBC correspondent says the stigma attached to Aids means doctors do not commonly list it as the cause of death.

Deaths are attributed on death certificates to related diseases, such as tuberculosis or pneumonia, rather than Aids, the BBC's Peter Biles in Johannesburg says.

The charge of unprofessional conduct has sparked debate in South Africa about the extent to which Aids-related deaths are covered up, he says.

South Africa, where 5.5 million people are living with HIV, is one of several countries where the HIV epidemic is continuing to worsen, according to a UNAids report released this week.

'Watershed' case

Proceedings against Dr Wagner were triggered by a complaint by the family of a 30-year-old woman to the national health watchdog.

After a disciplinary hearing in Bloemfontein, the South African Heath Professions Council said Dr Wagner should face a charge of "unprofessional conduct".

South Africa's Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang
South Africa's health minister promotes natural remedies
The case has been adjourned, probably until early next year.

The labour union to which Dr Wagner belongs, Solidarity, has said the case could be "a watershed for South Africa".

"If he is exonerated and it is found that doctors may in future indicate Aids as the real cause of death on certificates, it would have tremendous consequences for the statistical documentation of this pandemic," a Solidarity spokesman said.

The opposition Democratic Alliance has argued that current policies that protect the confidentiality of Aids patients at all costs may not be helping the national Aids awareness campaign.

The government approach to the HIV epidemic in South Africa has been controversial. Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has promoted the use of natural remedies - such as telling people with HIV to eat garlic and beetroot - rather than the anti-retroviral drugs used in the West.

More than 60 international experts on HIV/Aids called for her resignation in September, saying people were "dying unnecessarily" because they were being denied Aids drugs.

The United Nations special envoy for Aids in Africa has also criticised the South African government for its "negligent" attitude to rolling out treatment.

However, hundreds of traditional healers demonstrated in support of Dr Tshabalala-Msimang on Thursday, carrying placards warning of the dangers of anti-retrovirals.

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