News note

Buddhist monks and nuns fight against HIV/AIDS

BANGKOK, 22 August 2003 – Across the Mekong sub-region Buddhist monks and nuns are responding to the threat of HIV/AIDS with the support of their governments and a little help from the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF. A seminar in Bangkok starting Monday brings together monks and government officials from five Mekong countries to review the Buddhist response to HIV/AIDS. It is taking place at the Maxx Hotel, Rama 9 Road, 25-29 August.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is rapidly gathering momentum. Epidemics are rampant in Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand, and are threatening to erupt in China and Viet Nam. At this point, all sectors of society and government need to get involved if this rapid spread of the virus is to be contained.

"Religious leaders have a great deal to contribute to a national AIDS effort," UNICEF Regional Advisor on HIV/AIDS, Robert Bennoun said today. " In many villages in this region, the temple is still the heart of the community. In some areas, community religious structures are stronger than the government structures. Villages which do not have health centres or social welfare centres often have temples."

According to Bennoun, the Buddhist ideals of moderation, self-discipline and compassion are also central to effective HIV prevention and help to create caring environments for people with HIV/AIDS.

Somdech Tep Vong, the Supreme Patriarch of the Cambodian Mahanikaya sect, will be keynote speaker at the seminar. Somdech Tep Vong notes that people do not always understand the relationship between Buddhism and HIV/AIDS.

"Really, it is part of the traditional role  for monks and nuns to provide a refuge for the people. By taking the Buddha as our example, we who follow the Buddha’s path, monks, nuns and lay people, can help bring an end to the suffering caused by HIV and AIDS”, he said.

“The Buddha taught that the prime cause for suffering is ignorance and that by overcoming ignorance, we can overcome suffering.

“The first step on the path that leads to the cessation of suffering is right understanding.  By turning our ignorance about HIV/AIDS - micca ditthi - into right understanding about HIV/AIDS - samma ditthi, we have begun the journey."

Internationally, Thailand is renowned for its leadership in the response to HIV/AIDS and  Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, Dr Wissanu Kreuangarm, will be opening the seminar.

The seminar will be an opportunity for monks and lay participants from China, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam to assess the progress of the Buddhist response, and to work with UNICEF to identify the constraints which they face. Participants will also be able to focus on the issue of religious communities caring for children orphaned by AIDS as well as to benefit from sharing ideas and experiences.

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For More Information Contact:

Robert Bennoun: Mobile: 01 831 4959,
UNICEF direct line: 02 356 9464
Prue Borthwick: Mobile: 01 987 7301,
UNICEF direct line: 02 356 9469, Home: 02 392 9959
Emily Booker: Mobile: 01 701 4626
UNICEF direct line: 02 356 9406




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