AIDS awareness is rising – as are health costs

Essays > Health

Nirbija probes into today’s facts on AIDS, 35 years after Osho’s warning.

The rate of HIV infections is still very high. Approximately 1 million people are dying of HIV every year. The worldwide cost to prevent and treat the disease has surged to billions of US dollars. These figures were announced in December 2018 during UNAIDS, the United Nations Aids Organisation biannual convention in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Hardly anybody imagined a few decades ago that at the end of the 20th century, the world would be witness to a mysterious, worldwide and deadly pandemic. Medical science had progressed to a point where nearly everything seemed curable. But in the early 1980s suddenly many patients, mostly gay men, were admitted to US hospitals’ first aid units suffering from high fever, lung infections and the flu. They had unusual cancerous lesions on the skin and a strange inflammation in the oral cavity. No known treatment worked and they died quickly.

Looking back

Sannyasins were made aware of that threat by Osho as early as March 1984.

Medical issues concerning the commune were usually passed on to Osho by his personal physician, Dr Amrito Meredith. He had the expertise to see the upcoming danger. Amrito remembers: “Osho asked for a brief resume of what was known at the time.

It was a shock when our communities received Osho’s guidance on how to protect ourselves against a highly infectious disease called AIDS. Virologists had succeeded in detecting a virus causing the infection, naming it the retrovirus HTLV-III. As it supposedly spread by sex and kissing, members of Osho’s communes worldwide were advised to undergo a blood test to detect if someone had already been infected by the virus. Furthermore, everyone was to use condoms and rubber gloves during sexual activities and stop kissing, as the virus was found in body fluids and was transmitted for example in semen. Not all sannyasins adopted this practice and several voiced their disagreement in letters to Osho.

His main response was to remind us that it is compassion on the part of the AIDS infected person towards the healthy one to accept being segregated from communal living or participating in shared meditations.

Osho added that those with the disease should create their own beautiful communes.

Research by Dutch sannyasins

During these early years two Dutch sannyasins, Nandan and Satyamo, started to carry out a research into Osho’s discourses on homosexuality and AIDS to contribute to an unbiased study of his teachings for their community. This unique compilation of more than 50 pages discusses Osho’s view of human sexuality, based on the spiritual frame of reference used by him. Its title is Osho on heterosexuality, homosexuality and transcending both. An entire chapter – The arrival of AIDS – is dedicated to Osho’s statements about the roots and social implications of the disease. They are outrageous and direct as ever and a highly recommendable read. The entire manuscript has been now translated into English (edited by Kaiyum and Bhagawati) and is available on the Dutch website Vrienden van Osho.

Rajneeshpuram – the AIDS-safe zone

It is worth remembering the first human settlement adopting scientific precautions against AIDS unanimously and rigorously as early as 1984. It was the City of Rajneeshpuram in Oregon, USA, a commune of a few thousand sannyasins living with their Master, Osho. Their rapid and immediate response proved essential for the integrity of their health and might have saved many lives. After testing all residents, reportedly two were found AIDS-positive. They were segregated and taken care of by a special medical team. When one of these sannyasins died, Swami Lazarus, a beautiful and touching cremation ceremony took place, attended by most of the citizens and many local media.

Hardly any of the media mentioned the safety precautions practised in Rajneeshpuram. Although press releases about the precautions taken in the city were sent to the media worldwide, they were ridiculed and considered extreme at that time. To this day, Rajneeshpuram’s highly effective and compassionate countermeasures to the emerging sickness remain widely unreported.

Precious time elapsed. The timing while fighting an epidemic is essential. The more people transmit the virus, the more infections multiply rapidly. It took the World Health Organisation (WHO) until 1986 to consider the disease a worldwide threat. A Global Programme on Aids (GPA) was founded by its highly dedicated director, Dr Jonathan Max Mann, and funded with a budget of US$ 100 million. He spearheaded early AIDS research with a team that grew from 2 to 200 within four years. And today?

Deepak Mattur works as a strategic data analyst on HIV financing at the Joint UN programme for HIV/AIDS in Geneva, Switzerland. In a study presented last December, he found that, “…overall, domestic public spending on HIV increased by 60% from 2006 to 2016. In low-income countries, it increased from US$ 121 million to US$ 256 million; in lower-middle income countries, from US$ 231 million to US$ 980 million; and in upper-middle income countries, from US$ 2.4 billion to about US$ 6.9 billion.”

Mattur’s findings indicate a much higher public spending on preventing and curing AIDS than previously reported. Imagine the impact of these immense public health care costs for developing countries! And imagine for a moment, how much better life would be in these burdened states if the money could have been invested for example in public education and services, infrastructure, anti-corruption measures, investments in land conservation, crops and water management. In a best-case scenario, money otherwise spent on military will be reallocated to fighting the spread of AIDS: “Make condoms, not war!”

Osho, the notorious whistle-blower on AIDS

In 1985, still in Rajneeshpuram, Osho began giving videotaped interviews to the world press. On August 7, he was asked by a reporter of KNBC-TV, Los Angeles: “Is there something in the world occurring that alarms you?”
Osho identifies two major dangers: “[…] One is that nuclear weapons are coming to a point where either we have to stop producing them totally, or we have to be ready to evaporate from this planet. The second thing that has been of tremendous significance is the discovery of the disease AIDS.

Now it seems humanity is between two ditches. Almost walking on a razor’s edge. Either nuclear weapons will destroy it, or the disease AIDS will destroy it. The destruction is becoming more, more probable than it was before.

[…] It seems everything is against humanity. It is as if this planet is going to die. That’s why I started speaking again. I felt that seeing the death of the planet just as an observer is irresponsibility. I have to respond to the situation, and I am spreading – through my sannyasins, through mass media, in every possible way – how we can destroy the idea of celibacy from religions, how we can convert homosexuals into heterosexuals, how we can convince the women’s liberation movement that lesbianism is not liberation but sheer stupidity, and how we can create an atmosphere around the world that will force politicians to stop piling up more and more nuclear weapons.

It is almost an impossible task, but not absolutely impossible, and when the life of the whole planet is at risk, everything should be done to prevent it. Every intelligent man’s door should be knocked on. It is time to take the challenge and come out.

The artists, the painters, the scientists, the dancers, the musicians, all the creative people around the world should declare that any government that goes on piling up nuclear weapons is anti-people, anti-humanity.

[…] So, I am not without hope. I see every possibility that we can change the course where we are going unconsciously. There is no need for AIDS to be there, and there is no need for a nuclear war to be there. In fact, we can change the nuclear energy into creative sources. We can make this earth a beautiful garden without hunger, without poverty, without disease. It will be simply idiotic to use so much energy for destroying innocent people, and for destroying the only planet around here that is alive.”

Osho, The Last Testament, Vol. 1, Ch 21

Why did Osho mention atomic weapons and AIDS together? They seem to be strangely related. Both represent our humanity’s suicidal approach to life. But credit for Osho’s concern about humanity was – nil! Osho was one of the first internationally known persons to point to the potential threat but he shared the fate of many whistle-blowers. A few months later, in November 1985, Osho was extradited from the USA, paying heavily for the debts of some of  his disciples, who had committed crimes in the City of Rajneeshpuram that were projected on him. About 350 years earlier, Galileo Galilei had been sentenced to lifelong imprisonment for his astronomical discourses disturbing the Catholic church’s dogmas. And today, Julian Assange faces the same punishment for publishing facts about US war crimes.

Ironically, a year later in 1986, WHO’s Director-General, the late Danish physician Halfdan T. Mahler, is reported to have admitted that their counter-measures against AIDS had come too late! Dr Mahler was a specialist on fighting tuberculosis. And TB is a leading killer of people with AIDS in its final stages. Two to three million people had already been infected. Hospices in San Francisco were inundated with dying patients. Still, no treatment worked. And it was found that even more people were infected in Africa.

AIDS-Watch: figures today

Worldwide, HIV has by now caused the death of an estimated 35 million people. It is the deadliest infection second only to tuberculosis. Every year, about 2 million women, men and babies contract the virus. Today, estimates suggest that about 37 million people are infected worldwide. Many of them are not aware of their contagiousness. (Source: UNAIDS, Amsterdam conference, 2018 .)

Statistics say nothing about the enormous suffering of AIDS patients. Catholic women in parts of Africa, for example, are not allowed to use condoms while having intercourse with their AIDS-infected husbands as it is against the dogma of the church. Hence, they give birth to AIDS-infected babies. 1.8 million children are presently suffering from AIDS and 180,000 children and babies get infected anually (UNAIDS estimates). 95% catch the virus through their mothers during birth, reports Nicla Panciera in La Stampa (1 December 2018) and only 52% get adequate medication.

Costs for military expenditure last year rose to US$ 1,820,000,000,000 – yes, 1.83 trillion! (SIPRI, 2019). That corresponds to US$ 239 per human being on this planet. In the southern hemisphere of Africa and other poor parts of the world, 2.5 billion men and women live on US$ 2 per day. “Condoms are still not sufficiently available to those who need them in many countries with a high burden of HIV. The estimated condom needs in 47 countries in sub-Saharan Africa in 2015 was 6 billion male condoms; however, only an estimated 2.7 billion condoms were distributed.”

There was growing concern at last year’s Amsterdam AIDS convention that funds to fight the disease are being cut. “If donors falter in their support for HIV, the consequences could be devastating,” commented Linda-Gail Bekker, President of the International AIDS Society and International Chair of AIDS 2018. “Smart investments are curbing the spread of HIV and saving both money and lives. Now is not the time to stall or pull back…”

She added, “With nearly 1 million people still dying of HIV annually, advocates warn that if the funding gap is not closed quickly, the shortfall could lead to millions of unnecessary HIV infections and deaths.” (AIDS 2018 in review)

As for wealthy people or those with access to health insurance, AIDS seems to be no longer a deadly disease. A report published in the Daily Mail, UK, on 19 March 2019 says that “…taking anti-retro viral therapy… makes the virus undetectable and untransmittable within six months if taken daily.”

But that is true only if a person knows she/he is infected, and the latest statistics for example in the US reveal: “Eighty percent of new HIV transmissions – more than 30,000 – come from people who have not been diagnosed or are not on medication.” (2019, report by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, USA)

The map of the US Centers for disease control and prevention (CDC) shown some months ago in the British Daily Mail illustrates how concentrated the AIDS epidemic was in 2015. The South accounts for half of new HIV diagnoses, concentrated in 46 counties (out of America’s 3,000 counties).

A sane conclusion to these facts suggests that it is definitely not the time to drop personal preventive measures against AIDS, especially not for sexually-active people. The disease is as dangerous as ever.

Trust is the key

How was it possible that thousands of sannyasins worldwide voluntarily agreed to get tested for whether they are AIDS positive? And that the City of Rajneeshpuram and sannyasin communes worldwide adopted testing and preventive measures?

Dr Michael S. Saag, a physician and prominent HIV/AIDS researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has been working for decades in the southern US states. He recently said that the sheer fact of getting someone to a clinic to get tested is complicated enough. He presented a classic scenario he encounters: “[Here is] somebody who grew up very church-oriented and they are a gay man. The church message during their whole life is: you should not engage in homosexual activity. And yet, that’s what their biology is gearing to do. And all the years of messaging about what it is to be a good person… they are afraid to let it be known who they are and what their sexual identity is. They feel like some people can read them. So, they avoid situations or places that would associate them with that. They are afraid of being outed if they are seen at a clinic or an event where HIV is being addressed. You can see how that affects access to services. That’s where the difficulty emerges.”

What was the difference then? First and foremost, it is the trust of disciples towards Osho, our Master. He teaches us the art of taking a jump into the unknown and to listen to the heart rather than to the mind. On our journeys through life, many of us experience the profundity and truth of this insight. Adopting the AIDS preventions was just such a jump. Imagine in 1984 to suddenly drop kissing and using rubber gloves for your sexual foreplay without having generally acknowledged medical reasons for it! For those able to follow Osho’s suggestions it proved invaluable; most probably it spared some of us from getting the deadly disease.

Secondly, the sangha of a Master is different from a society. It is based on meditation and awareness. The love towards the Master, and being on the same inner journey together, created deep respect for each other and especially for our lovers and sexual partners.

Trust, loving respect and compassion towards others must be part of any effective strategy to cope with the still spreading pandemic of AIDS. These can only grow out of a meditative awareness.

Nirbija

Nirbija is a writer, facilitator of Osho’s meditations, and enjoys life in the countryside.

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