|A baby in Kaliningrad abandoned by an HIV positive mother|
KALININGRAD, Russia / NEW YORK, 9 February 2005 - HIV/AIDS is a growing problem among young people in Russia. Fuelled by intravenous drug use, around 80 per cent of all those living with the virus are under 30, with women accounting for one in three new infections. The effects of the crisis on children are starkly illustrated at orphanages and shelters across the country.
At one kindergarten in Kaliningrad, the majority of the 23 babies being cared for were abandoned at birth by HIV-positive mothers who also injected drugs. In many cases the grandparents assume responsibility for the children, and the kindergarten, with support from UNICEF, offers additional care and assistance.
One woman sends her infant grandson to kindergarten during the week so that she can go to work. “Both his parents are drug users and HIV positive and when he was born they rejected him,” she says. “Of course I decided to take care of him - but I’m a pensioner and in order to be able to raise him I had to start work again. The kindergarten doesn’t just help us – it rescued my grandson.”
The children can stay in the kindergarten until they turn five. Some need only day care, but for others, it’s their only home. They are given basic education and encouraged to express themselves through drawing and painting. A staff nurse offers health care – a vital component as some of the children are also HIV-positive.
With more than three million injecting drug users, Russia is one of the worst-affected countries in Eastern Europe. As the Russian AIDS epidemic grows, it is possible that more babies will become abandoned and will need the sort of care offered by similar UNICEF-backed projects. Education – particularly among women at risk of infection – is another priority for UNICEF in the battle against the spread of HIV.