HIV-Positive Children, Teens in Romania Experiencing Discrimination, Lack Access to Medical Care, Education, Report Says
More than 7,000 HIV-positive children and teenagers in Romania do not receive medical care or education about their disease and do not attend school for fear of discrimination and abuse, according to a report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch, the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports. The findings of the report, titled, "Life Doesn't Wait': Romania's Failure to Protect and Support Children and Youth Living with HIV," were based on research conducted in February and June of HIV-positive teenagers, non-governmental organizations and government officials, Clarisa Bencomo, children's rights researcher for HRW and report author, said (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 8/2).
According to the report, more than 7,200 teenagers, ages 15 to 19, between 1986 and 1991 as part of a government program were exposed to HIV after undergoing unscreened blood transfusions with contaminated needles at hospitals and orphanages across Romania (Osborn, Independent, 8/3). Fewer than 60% of the 7,200 HIV-positive children living in Romania attend school, and those who do are at risk of being abused by teachers and expelled if their status is revealed, the report says (Marinas, Reuters/ Washington Post, 8/2). According to the report, physicians often decline to treat HIV-positive young people or harass them to discourage them from seeking medical care. In addition, antiretroviral therapy delays frequently occur in some of Romania's counties, causing interruptions in antiretroviral treatment for the youth, the report says. "The Romanian government has known about these children for more than 15 years, but it still doesn't have a plan for what will happen when they turn 18," Bencomo said, adding, "Unless the authorities take urgent measures now, unchecked discrimination will push far too many of these children to the margins of society" (HRW release, 8/2). Adrian Streinu Cercel, who coordinates Romania's AIDS program, refuted the report, saying, "It is possible that there are dentists that don't treat HIV patients, and schools where there is discrimination, and local authorities that don't respect the right to privacy, but it [is] not a widespread phenomenon" (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 8/2).
HRW called on the Romanian government to ensure the safety and rights of HIV-positive children and teenagers living in the country by increasing their access to education, including information on reproductive health and HIV/AIDS; providing reliable medical care and antiretroviral therapy; eliminating regulations that mandate HIV testing for employment; ending the criminalization of the knowing transmission of HIV; preparing HIV-positive children in foster care and orphanages to live independently; and providing adequate on-going services to youth (HRW release, 8/2).