While there has been an an increased initiative on HIV/AIDS awareness in Tibetan inhabited regions in China since the last decade, there are many Tibetans uninformed about the epidemic. The continuing surge of Chinese migrants to Tibetan inhabited areas, seasonal Tibetan workers, nomadic lifestyles, and lack of AIDS awareness potentially create a widespread risk of HIV infection among Tibetans.
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Thubten Phuntsok, a rural clinical physician and a Tibetan history professor, has studied AIDS epidemic in Tibetan inhabited areas in China and has led many initiatives to bring awareness of AIDS among Tibetans.
“There is a higher risk of spread of HIV/AIDS in Tibet compared to other foreign countries," says Thubten Phunsok, a leading HIV/AIDS advocate, speaking at Kham Television’s Jampa Program. “Lack of AIDs awareness among Tibetans, especially in villages, and the liberal culture of sex make Tibet a vulnerable place for spread of HIV/AIDS.”
In 2007, Dr. Phuntsok founded the first non-governmental organization called the Tibetan Association for Prevention of AIDS (TAPA), focused on creating HIV/AIDs awareness and prevention in Tibetan regions in China.
Dr. Phuntsok addressed the importance of creating awareness of HIV/AIDs in Tibetan areas, especially in Tibetan rural villages where he says lacks awareness about the disease.
“Tibetans, especially those in villages are either unaware or especially shy about using scientific means of AIDS prevention [condoms] when it comes to sexual encounters,” says Dr. Phuntsok. “But they should know that such preventions for sexually transmitted disease would prevent spread of the infectious disease.”
According to Dr. Phuntsok, the high altitude of Tibet is a problem for HIV/AIDS patients. “In the west, there are patients who have lived with HIV/AIDS for more than 20 years, but in Tibetan areas, AIDs patients seem to die faster.” said Dr. Phuntsok. “AIDS viruses survive in high Tibetan altitude but the HIV patients here seem to die faster.”
Watch Kunleng: Dr. Tenzin Namdol, University of Minnesota and Phuntsok Chomphel, Director of CHOICE-HIV/AIDS Initiative, Dharamsala, discusses the spread of AIDS/HIV in India and China, and it's impact on Tibetan societies both inside and outside Tibet.