The Roles of Buddhist Temples in the Treatment of HIV/AIDS in Thailand

Article excerpt

Although efforts are being made to decrease the number of new HIV infections in Thailand, less support is give to the growing population that is already affected by the disease. This qualitative study explores the roles of Buddhist temples in the treatment of AIDS in Thailand, specifically the perspectives of both Buddhist monks and persons who are living with AIDS on HIV/AIDS and the care provided at the temples. Three major themes were derived from the interviews: (1) temple as a last choice; (2) temple as a support group; and (3) the role of Buddhism and monks at the temple.

Keywords: Thailand, HIV/AIDS/Buddhist and Buddhist Temples

Introduction

Among the Southeast Asian countries, Thailand is considered proactive in HIV/AIDS education and prevention. However, Thailand still faces a serious HIV/AIDS problem. An estimated 670,000 Thais are living with HIV/AIDS and 55,000 people died from the disease in 2001 (UNAIDS, 2002a). Although the government's efforts regarding HIV prevention and education have reduced the number of new HIV infections, the number of AIDS cases is still increasing significantly. Between 1994 and 1997, the number of reported AIDS cases nearly doubled, from 13,923 to 26,713 (UNAIDS, 2002a).

Thailand's emphasis has been more on education and prevention and less on providing care for those who are in the terminal stages of AIDS. Hospitals and clinics are used only for short visits or to receive basic medical care. Most persons who are living with HIV/AIDS are unable to afford the medical care required, for either control of an HIV infection or treatment of AIDS. The Thai government has established no hospice programs (World Bank, 2000) to response to the increase of AIDS cases. Filling a need, several Buddhist temples have begun to provide terminal care for those with AIDS. However, the number of AIDS cases is too extensive for a few temples to handle and they are filled with patients, who come from all over Thailand.

The purpose of this qualitative and exploratory study is to describe Buddhist temple-based HIV/AIDS treatment in Thailand. The viewpoint of Buddhist monks who provide care for persons living with AIDS is explored, as are the perceptions of the persons who receive the care. Their approach to the treatment of persons with HIV/AIDS is unique and different from the approaches used in many other countries.

Literature Review

Because the AIDS epidemic has affected many working-age males, financial problems are plaguing many families. According to a research study conducted in Chiang Mai in 1994, most persons living with HIV/AIDS (PLHAs) in the research population spent about $974 on average on medical treatment (Kongsin, 1997). The treatment cost was about half of their salaries. In addition to the expensive medical care, both PLHAs and their caregivers lost income: the PLHAs could no longer work, and caregivers were forced to take time off from work to care for individuals in the terminal stages of AIDS.

The majority of PLHAs in Thailand spend their last stage of life at home, cared for by family members with the support of NGOs and community-based organizations (CBOs). According to Family Health International (2003), there are 465 groups for persons living with HIV/AIDS, with roughly 23,000 members in Thailand. These groups can provide only limited access to information about prevention, treatment, and care. Currently, many NGOs and CBOs in Thailand are collaborating with UNAIDS, WHO, and the Thai Ministry of Public Health to help PLHAs get access to information, treatment, and care and to help them develop networks within their communities.

Despite the efforts of NGOs, PLHAs, and the government regarding education and prevention of HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS is still seen as a dirty, dangerous, fearsome, and shameful disease. According to the research conducted by Kongsin (1997), more than half of the caregivers he interviewed reported that not only PLHAs but also caregivers became targets of social discrimination. …