This article originally appeared in Back to Godhead Magazine

“We were conducting seminars on HIV/AIDS in schools between Borivali and Bhayandar (suburbs of Mumbai) and found that the majority of students didn’t know about venereal diseases,” said Dr. Ajay Sankhe, director of the Bhaktivedanta Hospital situated at Mira Road, Mumbai. Pointing out that youngsters between the age group of 14 and 24 were falling prey to HIV/AIDS,  Dr Sankhe decided to do something about it.

At a seminar he was attending, Dr.Sankhe found that the UNICEF-sponsored teaching module simply taught the hazards of unprotected sex. During the lunch break he asked the participants whether they agreed wholeheartedly with the recommendations. Surprisingly they responded that they did not have anything that inculcated traditional higher values.

Dr. Sankhe took the lack of awareness of the seminar participants about spiritual solutions as an opportunity to spread his message. He explained to them the vision behind the Spiritual Care department of the Bhaktivedanta hospital. More than just catering to the needs of the body,  a true doctor also needs to cater to the needs of the undernourished spirit soul that inhabits the body. The participants agreed that this was a much better alternative than the prevalent approach.

The hospital then sent out letters asking school and college principals to depute mature students to become HIV/AIDS resource persons for the hospital. “The response has been overwhelming. Over 100 students have shown interest, and we expect more to join soon,” says Dr. Sandhya Subramnian (Sita Devi Dasi), chief coordinator for the training program. Surprisingly, even parents, who would have otherwise avoided discussing the issue with their wards, have supported their wards in this endeavor. One enthusiastic participant is Pankaj Upadhyaya, a Std. IX student. He puts his eagerness for the training program in the following words, “Being a resource person will not only broaden my horizon, but will also help me reach out to my friends. My mother was also happy that I was gaining more knowledge.”

Doctors teaching the students are not shying away from using the word sex while discussing HIV/AIDS with students. “Right at the start of our program, we made it clear to the students that sex is not taboo,” said Dr. Dhaval Dalal, chief physician at the hospital. “While we tell students that sex is a basic element of human existence, we also tell them that indulging in sex at a young age is not a part of our culture,” said Dalal.

“So while the World Health Organization propagates the use of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS, we are educating the students about the dangers of this disease and telling them that the best way of preventing it is to go back to our Indian culture and tradition of abstinence rather than indulgence,” said Dr. Subramanian.

Education has always been an important tool in the hands of those who are mature. In the midst of ever-increasing problems, it is rather tempting to dish out stop-gap solutions. Instead of following the herd, however, the spiritual doctors at Bhaktivedanta hospital are trend-setters in their own right. If only the rest of the world would pay heed.

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