The Pope has said the spread of the HIV virus on the African continent is “above all an ethical problem”.

Pope Benedict XVI was in the small west African republic of Benin when he unveiled the Africae Munus, which details the future of the Catholicism in the continent.

On the subject of Africa’s HIV pandemic, he said: “The change of behaviour that it requires – for example, sexual abstinence, rejection of sexual promiscuity, fidelity within marriage – ultimately involves the question of integral development, which demands a global approach and a global response from the Church.

“For if it is to be effective, the prevention of AIDS must be based on a sex education that is itself grounded in an anthropology anchored in the natural law and enlightened by the word of God and the Church’s teaching.”

Two years ago, he told a journalist condoms, which he did not mention in Africa this week, could cause the virus to spread further, though the Vatican later appeared to reverse this statement.

Last year, the Pope told a writer that condoms might be a temporary solution for people on the way to living in a “more human” way: “She [the Church] of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

UNAIDS said yesterday that AIDS-related deaths were at their lowest level since 2005.