At a press conference to announce the pope's annual Lenten message, Vatican officials condemned the "genocidal action" of pharmaceutical companies that price their anti-HIV medications out of the reach of poor people with the disease, Agence France-Presse reports. The officials said the companies display a "lack of social conscience" and called for increased public pressure on them to reduce the cost of their lifesaving medications. Pope John Paul II also urged the world's population to not "close its eyes" to the suffering of millions of people with HIV, including an estimated 2.5 million HIV-positive children.
The Vatican has come under fire from AIDS activists in the past few weeks for suggesting that condoms do not help prevent HIV infections and alleging that the materials used to make latex condoms are so porous that the virus can slip through them. The church instead advocates abstinence until marriage and monogamy to prevent the spread of HIV.