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Thailand's Monastery of AIDS
Lopburi Province, Thailand
By Antolo
23 Feb 2015

FULL TEXT ON REQUEST
 

Text by Ana Salvá, Photos by Antolín Avezuela

A Buddhist temple in Thailand serves thousands of HIV patients abandoned by their families. Most of the families that bring their infected relatives never return to the monastery over to visit, even after death.

 

The monastery Phra Bat Nam Pu, located in Lopburi province, 150 kilometers north of Bangkok, has become the place where thousands of people affected by HIV in Thailand receive medical care. Some were abandoned there by their families and others came on their own feet. "Sometimes I would see the sick to the hospital, and in 1991 some began to come visit me here; I was an alternative for them, "says Dr. Alongkot Dikkapanya, the head monk of the monastery which today serves more than 1,500 men, women, children and orphans.

In Thailand, 440,000 people out of a population of 67 million live with HIV, according to the latest UNAIDS report on the state of the epidemic in the world. Many Thai carriers of the virus fear getting tested to see if they are infected. Access to health care in Thailand has improved over the last 35 years, as the country was one of the first to introduce free antiretroviral treatment for people with HIV, with South Africa and Cameroon, according to Doctors Without Borders.

The monastery takes care of HIV-infected patients that tend to be stigmatized by Thai society. The clinic also cares for patients with lower immunity that cannot feed themselves. Some are very weakened by the disease and cannot eat, go to the bathroom or change their own diapers. Some lie almost naked and powdered with talc as a result of the tropical heat.

"The disease weakens patients to death if they don't take their medicine," says Thong, one of the veteran’s center workers who also HIV postive. He gave a false name because he prefers to remain anonymous.

Most patients who come to the clinic have contracted AIDS as a result of having intercourse with prostitutes. Some then spread the virus to their wives. Thais generally prefer unprotected sex, according to a report by the Organization World Health Organization (WHO) in 2010.

One of the infected women living in the center, Pan, 34, sits cross-legged on her bed. She can barely speak. Pan fell ill with AIDS at the age of 19 after having sex with her ex-boyfriend. Later, she gave birth to a girl with HIV who died 11 months after birth.

"My parents divorced a while ago and the new husband of my mother brought me here. They have never come to visit me since then,” explains Pan.

Most of the patient's families never return to the monastery to visit them. Even after death.

"When new patients come, they have to check a box in a form saying what to do with their bodies when they die. Normally their families don't come to pick them up,” Thong says.

Among the options in the form, they can choose to be mummified for display in a room a few meters from the clinic. This decision is taken by the victims themselves to raise awareness about HIV's lethality.

"When we have to decide what to do with the bodies, we cremate them" says Thong.

In the windows of the room, behind the figure of a Great Buddha of black color, there are sachets containing the ashes of patients who failed to beat the disease.

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monastery of aids 01
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

A black statue of Buddha reigns in the middle of the temple where all the remains of the patients that passed away in the monastery are stocked.

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monastery of aids 02
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

The only isolated area in the whole building is a small dorm settled for tuberculosis patients, at the end of the main room.

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monastery of aids 03
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

Maprod came to the temple with his mother seven months ago. His mother got AIDS, but he was born healthy. Now he’s almost 3 years old.

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monastery of aids 04
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

A patient on Phra Baht Nam Phu Monastery awaits the nurses who take care of him.

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monastery of aids 05
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

Kraison, 46 years old, became infected 10 years ago after having sex with a prostitute without protection. He arrived at the temple 2 years ago because he is not able to support himself. He lost his legs after suffering hyperglycemia when infected by HIV.

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monastery of aids 06
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

Alia, 49 years old, she knew that she was infected with AIDS after one month of pregnancy. After taking the proper medication, her child was born healthy. Her husband, who used to have sex with sex workers without using condoms, infected her. She arrived to the temple 5 years ago because no one cares of her.

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monastery of aids 07
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

Some of the patients are so weak that can not even walk. They must wait for helpers to get rid of their bed prisons daily.

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monastery of aids 08
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

Rachen, 58. He used to inject heroin. He was fired from his neighborhood when his neighbors realized that he was infected.

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monastery of aids 09
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

Aman, 45. HIV affected his brain and he became deaf 5 years ago.

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monastery of aids 10
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

A patient tries to get some rest at his bed in the middle of the main room.

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monastery of aids 11
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

All the critical patients must share the same dorm. A large room loaded with hospital beds shared by the inmates and all their personal belongings.

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monastery of aids 12
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

Pon, 48, joined the monastery seven years ago, after a routine check revealed that he had HIV. Since then he quit his family without saying a word to don't disturb them. Now he kills time on his bed drawing portraits of the founder of this center.

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monastery of aids 13
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

Kitti, 46 years old, is so weakened by the disease that he must wear diapers. He became infected after having sex with his wife. He reached the temple three years ago, after the death of his wife. None of his family is taking care of him.

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monastery of aids 14
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

A patient trying to get outside of the building by himself.

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monastery of aids 15
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

The patients have the right to decide if, after death, they want their bodies being mummified to be shown at the museum, to explain the world how HIV affects humankind.

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monastery of aids 16
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

After death, the bodies of the patients are incinerated and the remains are stocked all together in individual sachets behind the Buddha statue.

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monastery of aids 17
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

Because of the increasing lack of storage space at the monastery, now the bodies of the deceased are not just cremated but crushed to reduce the size at small bags in boxes.

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monastery of aids 18
Lopburi
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

On a temple inside the complex, some mummies of infected HIV patients that passed away are shown to explain the visitors how the sickness affect the human body.

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AIDS Monastery 12
Lopburi Province
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

Kitti, 46 years old, is so weakened by the disease that he must wear diapers. He became infected after having sex with his wife. He reached the temple three years ago, after the death of his wife. None of his family is taking care of him.

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AIDS Monastery 13
Lopburi Province
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

A patient trying to get outside of the building by himself.

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AIDS Monastery 14
Lopburi Province
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

On a temple inside the complex, some mummies of infected HIV patients that passed away are shown to explain the visitors how the sickness affect the human body.

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AIDS Monastery 15
Lopburi Province
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

A black statue of Buddha reigns in the middle of the temple where all the remains of the patients that passed away in the monastery are stocked.

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AIDS Monastery 16
Lopburi Province
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

After death, the bodies of the patients are incinerated and the remains are stocked all together in individual sachets behind the Buddha statue.

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AIDS Monastery 17
Lopburi Province
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

The patients have the right to decide if, after death, they want their bodies being mummified to be shown at the museum, to explain the world how HIV affects humankind.

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AIDS Monastery 01
Lopburi Province
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

Worrakit has 42 years old. He used to inject drugs and had unprotected sex. The disease has weakened him to the point of became blind. He came to the monastery three years ago because he had nowhere to go.

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AIDS Monastery 02
Lopburi Province
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

A patient on Phra Baht Nam Phu Monastery awaits the nurses who take care of him.

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AIDS Monastery 03
Lopburi Province
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

Kraison, 46 years old, became infected 10 years ago after having sex with a prostitute without protection. He arrived at the temple 2 years ago because he is not able to support himself. He lost his legs after suffering hyperglycemia when infected by HIV.

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AIDS Monastery 04
Lopburi Province
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

All the critical patients must share the same dorm. A large room loaded with hospital beds shared by the inmates and all their personal belongings.

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AIDS Monastery 05
Lopburi Province
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

A patient tries to get some rest at his bed in the middle of the main room.

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AIDS Monastery 06
Lopburi Province
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

Rachen, 58. He used to inject heroin. He was fired from his neighborhood when his neighbors realized that he was infected.

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AIDS Monastery 07
Lopburi Province
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

Pon, 48, joined the monastery seven years ago, after a routine check revealed that he had HIV. Since then he quit his family without saying a word to don't disturb them. Now he kills time on his bed drawing portraits of the founder of this center.

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AIDS Monastery 08
Lopburi Province
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

Maprod came to the temple with her mother seven months ago. Her mother got AIDS, but he was born healthy. Now he’s almost 2 years old.

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AIDS Monastery 09
Lopburi Province
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

Aman, 45. HIV affected his brain and he became deaf 5 years ago.

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AIDS Monastery 10
Lopburi Province
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

Some of the patients are so weak that can not even walk. They must wait for helpers to get rid of their bed prisons daily.

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AIDS Monastery 11
Lopburi Province
By Antolo
03 Feb 2015

The only isolated area in the whole building is a small dorm settled for tuberculosis patients, at the end of the main room.

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HIV Carriers in China Face Discrimina...
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