A Buddhist monk in Yangon's North Okkalapa township has resumed offering accommodation and healthcare services for people living with HIV/AIDS at his monastery after the government rescinded a ban on the program.
The venerable Badhanta Kundala of Ah Thawkayama Shwe Hninthar Yaelae monastery said he is caring for more than 70 people with HIV, including women children and women, at the monastery through the recently established Aye Mya Garuna foundation.
“Now I [have] permission and can provide accommodation and food for the patients when they receive treatment at Waibargi Hospital,” the venerable said.
The venerable began offering to accommodate the patients in his monastery while they receive treatment at Waibargi Hospital in 2005. The number of recipients grew to almost 100 before the program was banned by the former government on the grounds that it was not appropriate for monks to conduct healthcare activities.
HIV patients are now treated at Mingalardon Hospital and while the ban was in place, the venerable instead donated money to pay for the medical fees of poor outpatients and in-patients at Mingalardon.
“I was asked to sign a pledge not to do anymore charity work because they said it is not suitable for a monk when women and children stay at the monastery. I offered the accommodation because I felt sorry for the patients who were discriminated against at the hospital,” he said.
“It is hard for them to use the public toilet, bathroom and even get drinking water when they are receiving treatment at the hospital,” he said.
While at the monastery, the patients have access to sanitation facilities and receive food bought with funds from donors.
One HIV-positive patient from Bago Region who stayed at the monastery while she received treatment at Waibargi with her husband said people with HIV regularly faced discrimination from doctors and nurses.
“I was so sad when a doctor shouted at me ‘you HIV’ when I inquired about getting treatment for my husband,” she said. “I did not know about the disease because we were living in very small village far from town. Many women have similar stories to mine.”
Aye Mya Garuna member U Min Thein Tun said the foundation has been formed to enable the activities at the monastery to be carried out officially. An application to register the foundation formally is still being processed but the government allowed activities to resume in June.
“When [the senior monks] resumed accepting the patients, the number of patients increased significantly within one month. It is hard to accommodate them all in the monastery hall, particularly as some have tuberculosis,” he said.
He said the foundation also wanted to give health education to patients and the public to help control the spread of diseases and combat discrimination.