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South African Government Defends Health Minister

South Africa's government is defending the country's health minister, who is under pressure to resign because of controversial AIDS policies.

A government spokesman says the Cabinet did not talk about calls to fire Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang during a meeting Thursday. The spokesman, Themba Maseko, added that the country's fight against AIDS is bigger than any one minister.

Earlier this week, President Thabo Mbeki received a letter signed by more than 80 scientists including a Nobel laureate calling for Tshabalala-Msimang's dismissal.

The health minister came under harsh criticism last month at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto for promoting garlic and beetroot as alternative AIDS treatments.

The United Nations AIDS program estimates that 5.5 million South Africans are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The Cabinet Thursday said it will strengthen cooperation and communication among South Africa's National AIDS Council and various levels of government to address the crisis.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.