In the world of HIV/AIDS, communications is vital. In many communities, often the initial reaction is to say, “we do not have any men who have sex with men; we do not have any men who visit prostitutes; and, we do not have any HIV/AIDS.” Reality is a bit different than the words. Today, according to the World Health Organization, approximately, 33 million people are living with HIV and 2.7 million new cases were reported in 2007. The face of HIV/AIDS is everyone’s face. HIV/AIDS knows no economic, race, ethnic, gender, age or religious boundaries. It is an equal opportunity disease. As people move around the globe – so to does the virus.
A rural clinic physician is setting the tone for HIV/AIDS leadership. Dr. Thubten Phuntsok from the Kham region of the Tibetan plateau in China is delivering a valuable service. The silence around HIV didn’t quiet the facts that patients were trickling in for HIV treatment. The first patients – possibly non-Tibetans – were identified in Lhasa in the 1990s. A year later, the first Tibetan AIDS patient was identified. Gradually, more patients were identified in the region.
Given the nomadic culture and people traveling outside the region for work, Dr. Phuntsok recognized the need to be proactive He founded the Tibetan Association for the Prevention of AIDS (TAPA) in 2007. TAPA is the first HIV/AIDS non-governmental organization in the Tibetan plateau area.
Compounding the problem, many nomads do not speak Chinese or English and have no concept of this modern day disease. Therefore, Dr. Phuntsok delivers all information and events in the Tibetan language. His priorities include:
Health education literature with images;
Health discussion groups;
Medical training; and the
Creation of the Tibetan Medicine Research for AIDS Prevention.
Eventually, Dr. Phuntsok would like to build a home for HIV/AIDS patients.
Machik, a non-profit organization, is partnered with TAPA in the efforts of Dr. Phuntsok.
When asked how does Tibetan medicine – founded 4,000 years ago – help patients with HIV/AIDs. He responded that Tibetan medicine acknowledges two systems for growth of disease – self manifested and disruption of the environment. He said it is important to look at one’s own behaviors to help diagnose a health problem and then since viruses did exist long ago – it is important to look at how has the environment been disturbed to produce a health issue. Through research, it may be possible to identify additional therapies or preventative treatments in addition to offering solutions to human behavior.
Dr. Phuntsok is bold to admit, acknowledge and act to raise awareness and assist with the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS.
By Keri Douglas, writer/photographer, Washington, DC
Read at the Exchange at Ode magazine.