Chakra Discussions

ISKCON's position on HIV/AIDS

by Pitambara das

Reposted April 19, 2005

Firstly, thanks for all your support- you know who you are. Secondly, its not all doom and gloom inside ISKCON. Its a lot of reading but here's some interesting stuff I found whilst browsing the net today. This is from CHAKRA's archive:-

"ISKCON Law Book Error
HIV testing not required

There is an error in the present version of the ISKCON law book. It states:

8.5.2 AIDS Test

1. The GBC Body requires that all devotees living and/or serving in our temples should take an AIDS test, local laws permitting. All new devotees, as they join, should also take an AIDS test.

2. The GBC Health and Welfare Committee advises that temples should not allow persons who are HIV positive to engage in services within our temples, which involve the preparation or serving of bhoga or prasadam.

This 1993 GBC resolution was overturned during the 1994 Mayapur meetings because the resolution was based on inadequate information about the best way to prevent HIV virus transmission. This section of the law book will therefore be removed in the next edition.

Along with this article CHAKRA is publishing a paper providing basic information for devotees about HIV/AIDS. The paper includes definitions of common terms and reviews routes of transmission, prevention strategies, information about the HIV antibody test, and it explains from various perspectives what it means to test positive."

and part 2 follows:

"Basic information about HIV/AIDS for ISKCON devotees
by Madhusudani Radha devi dasi
(Maria Ekstrand, Ph.D.)
Center for AIDS Prevention Studies
University of California, San Francisco

While I wish that information on AIDS could be irrelevant to the lives of ISKCON devotees, this is unfortunately not the case. We have already lost several members to this disease and many more are infected or care for devotees with AIDS.

In addition, the World Health Organization estimates that India currently has more HIV positive individuals than any other country in the world and the epidemic is spreading rapidly there. Approximately 70-80% of injection drug users in Manipur are infected and the figures are high for other groups too. Commercial sex workers have been hard hit (up to 60% depending on the study), as have STD clinic patients (30-40%), and even women with no risk factors who simply come to the hospital to give birth have a rate of infection many times what you find in the West (3-4% in a recent Mumbai study).

Since devotees frequently travel to India, this situation has implications for us too. The only silver lining with this horrible disease is that it is completely preventable. I hope this paper will shed some light on how this virus is and is not transmitted, and how you can prevent infection.

I. HIV and AIDS

Many people, including some members of the press, frequently use the terms HIV and AIDS interchangeably. While the two terms are certainly related, they are also different in some important ways.

1. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

2. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)

II. TRANSMISSION

In spite of recent treatment advances (such as the much publicized "protease inhibitor" drugs), AIDS is typically fatal. It is therefore not surprising that people have become very fearful of HIV infection. Many theories and myths about transmission have been proposed.

The good news is that compared to many other diseases such as colds, measles, and chicken pox, HIV is a fairly difficult virus to transmit. The routes of transmission are listed below, followed by a section describing ways in which the virus is not transmitted. These are typically referred to as "casual contact" and have never been implicated in any HIV infection cases since the beginning of this epidemic.

1. Transmission routes

The routes of transmission have been remarkably consistent ever since the epidemic was first discovered. That means:

2. Safe behavior

There is no evidence that HIV can be casually transmitted. You cannot get it by talking to someone who is HIV infected, by hugging them, by touching the same doorknob etc. You cannot even get it by having them cough on you or by drinking out of the same glass. Donating blood and being tested for HIV is also completely safe in most countries since new sterile needles are always used and are discarded immediately. If you are in doubt about the infection control and sterilization procedures used in your country, ask the health care workers there!

A few years ago a large study was conducted in New York among families of HIV infected haemophiliacs. For many years, these families had not known that their children were infected and had thus continued behaving as most families do. All of them had eaten off the same plates and drunk out of the same glasses. Many had even used each other's toothbrushes and licked the same ice cream. In spite of this intimacy, not a single family member tested HIV positive.

Another important point to remember is that during the past few years, researchers have stopped talking about risk groups and are instead focusing on risk behaviors, since these are really what transmit the virus. Thus it doesn't matter whether you consider yourself a drug addict, a gay man, a straight woman, or a devotee, the important thing is whether you have engaged in one of the previously mentioned behaviors and whether you might have been exposed to infected fluids.

III. THE HIV TEST

It is important to know that the HIV test was designed to detect antibodies to HIV, rather than the virus itself. These antibodies do not develop immediately in the body, but usually take anywhere up to 6 months before they are present in a sufficient quantity to be detected by the test. If you know that you have recently engaged in a risk behavior, you should probably get re-tested even if your HIV antibody test is negative. To be safe, the second test should be obtained at least six months after you last practiced the risk behavior.

Since AIDS is usually fatal, some people wonder why anyone should bother taking the test. It is true that early on in the epidemic this was a pretty controversial topic. The only reason back then was that by knowing that you were positive, you could avoid infecting other people.

Even though there still is no cure for AIDS, many advances have been made in the treatment of HIV infected individuals. For example:

IV. TESTING POSITIVE

What does it mean medically to test positive?

What does testing positive mean legally?

What does it mean psychologically to test positive?

As devotees we are fortunate enough to have realized that we are not our bodies but are spirit souls, thus our true selves cannot really become infected. This realization can be enormously helpful to our mental health as well, since we don't identify with our bodies. In spite of this knowledge, devotees whose bodies are infected by HIV are bound to experience a variety of emotions and have many questions. Some of these will be of a spiritual nature and can be best answered by our spiritual masters and senior devotees and friends. Other concerns are going to be more emotional or practical and for some people, it may be helpful to join a support group for HIV positive individuals, at least on a short-term basis. These groups usually help by reassuring their members that their feelings and concerns are perfectly normal. They also provide a forum to discuss specific practical issues and treatment options with others who have gone through the same process.

The endorsement of support groups with non-devotees is not meant to suggest that they can replace the support we can get within ISKCON. I hope that we have developed a strong enough support system within our society to help HIV infected devotees better handle these difficult news. I would also hope that we can respect each other's right to privacy about test results and to keep in confidence any news shared by others.

If a devotee in your temple or community has tested positive, it is only normal that other devotees there will be a little concerned about their own health risks. To reassure them, it may be helpful to review some of the information on transmission routes above. You can also use the example of health care workers who risk exposure to HIV and other contagious diseases on a daily basis, but who manage to stay uninfected. In medicine, there is a term called "universal precautions." That means that all patients are treated as if they were infected. Health care workers avoid exposure to their bodily fluids by using gloves, masks etc. Similarly, rather than worry about who is positive and who is negative, we should just avoid risk behaviors all together. This will also keep us safe from contracting many other, more common diseases, such as hepatitis B. The risk of HIV transmission is less of a problem in ISKCON than in other parts of society, given our regulative principles and way of life. Since you do not have to worry about casual transmission, the HIV status of other devotees really should not matter to you. There is no risk of transmission in any of the daily activities involved in living in an asrama with an infected individual. There is also no scientific reason to limit the types of service available to HIV positive devotees.

Living with HIV is stressful enough without having to worry about stigmatization and discrimination. The best gift we can give HIV positive devotees is to encourage them in their service, provide practical assistance as needed, and support their advancement in Krsna consciousness in any way that we can for as long as they remain in their bodies."

These two articles go to show that behind the scenes ISKCON is not all bad. Its a shame that thay are not more up-front with this kind of info. It took me hours to find it.

your servant and eternal well-wisher
Pitambara dasa
formerly Bhakta Raven