Russia’s AIDS Orphan Population Continues to Rise, Receives Inadequate Care
Approximately 50,000 HIV-positive women will give birth in Russia by the year 2005, and if the upward trend of HIV transmission continues, about 25% of Russia's newborns will be "abandoned" or become AIDS orphans, according to U.S News & World Report. Most pregnant HIV-positive women in Moscow, who receive care in segregated, specialized AIDS centers, are counseled to have abortions, and last year about half of the women referred to AIDS centers agreed to terminate their pregnancies. Women who choose not to undergo abortions are "encouraged" to relinquish their babies to the state. But some of these children end up living in hospitals for years, U.S. News reports, as many orphanages "refuse to accept the children unless doctors can guarantee that they are HIV-negative."
Glitch in the System
U.S. News notes that even babies born without HIV can retain their mother's antibodies to the virus for up to three years, and traditional antibody tests will erroneously indicate that these children are HIV-positive. More "sophisticated" tests can determine whether the virus is actually present in the patient's blood, but Russian doctors do not consider these tests "sufficient evidence" of an HIV-negative status. Thus, AIDS orphans who are not truly HIV-positive may be excluded from orphanages based on traditional HIV tests.
Some hospitals caring for AIDS orphans have taken extra steps to focus on this population. For example, Kaliningrad, Russia's westernmost region, has established a system consisting of a separate birthing ward for HIV-positive women and a special nursery school for their children. Other hospitals have managed to provide sufficient care for these children while providing little education, as many teachers "are afraid of the very word AIDS," one nurse said. Yevgeni Voronin, Russia's "leading expert" on children and HIV and the chief doctor of the St. Petersburg's Republican Infectious Diseases Hospital, said, "We take care of the body, but we turn out imbeciles." Hospitals care for the children up to age three and then turn them over to the general orphanage system. However, at this point the children are at a "desperate disadvantage," with "little chance" of catching up to their peers developmentally. U.S. News concludes that these children "likely will grow up to be hopelessly ill-adjusted adults, all because the previous generation was too afraid to touch them when they were tiny" (Gessen, U.S. News & World Report, 4/16).