UNICEF to release report on 'underground' HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia
'Blame and Banishment' co-author discusses effects on childrenNEW YORK, USA, 14 July 2010 – According to an upcoming UNICEF report about young people affected by HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, only 24 per cent of those in the region who need anti-retroviral treatment receive it, and the stigma associated with HIV infection is rampant – especially when it comes to injecting drug users.
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The report, entitled ‘Blame and Banishment’, will be released during the XVIII International AIDS Conference to be held 18-23 July in Vienna, Austria. The annual conference is the premier gathering for those working in the field of HIV, as well as policy makers, people living with HIV and others committed to ending the pandemic.
Report co-author Nina Ferencic, UNICEF’s Senior Advisor on HIV and AIDS in Central and Easter Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, recently spoke with UNICEF Radio to discuss the report’s findings in advance of its release.
Young people at the fringes
Many of the most at-risk adolescents often struggle to access support and services provided for adults, Ms. Ferencic explained. The report finds that government and civil society groups often shy away from helping the most at-risk youth, out of a fear of being seen as condoning behaviors – such as drug use or sex work – that are illegal or socially unacceptable.
“There’s an unwillingness to acknowledge that there are young people and minors involved in those behaviors,” said Ms. Ferencic.
Many young people in the region also fear that their risky behaviors will be leaked to law enforcement if they sign up for HIV testing and treatment, or other harm-reduction services. A recent UN Development Programme study of six countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia found that people living with HIV fear social stigma more than the health consequences of the disease.
Factor contributing to risky behaviour
Another contributing factor to the problem, Ms. Ferencic said, is that social, economic and family problems have driven a growing number of children to live outside of parental supervision.
Experts estimate that there are over 1 million street children in the region, living in poverty and sometimes selling sex to support themselves.
“The central challenge of responding to HIV,” the report states, “is the need to come to terms with an epidemic that mostly affects people deemed by society to be ‘delinquent’ or ‘anti-social. Hope for the future lies in new models of integrated services for women, children and young people that are being developed by both civil society organizations and government services.”
Compassion instead of blame
Ms. Ferencic said she hopes the report will show that there are many marginalized young people who are in need of support and protection.
“We hope to raise attention to the issues affecting children and young people who are either vulnerable, engaging in risky behaviors or already living with HIV and AIDS,” she noted. “These children need special support and services that reach them.”
The report says blame and banishment must be replaced by care and compassion when dealing with affected children and young people. It concludes: “Without greater solidarity and social acceptance, their suffering, often perceived as self-inflicted, falls into the moral gap between what is simply acknowledged and what constitutes an imperative to act.”