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Children and AIDS in the Russian Federation

Why we are Concerned

For many years Russia was known as a country with a low incidence of HIV. Throughout the 1990’s the virus spread very slowly. Then in 1995 the first cases were registered where HIV had been contracted by intravenous drug use. From that point on, HIV began to spread rapidly.

The facts

Russia has the second fastest growing HIV epidemic in Europe. By the end of 2004, the total number of officially registered cases exceeded 320,000. It is estimated that the actual number of infected people is closer to one million.

In 2004, approximately 40% of all newly registered cases of HIV were among women, with those in the most active reproductive age group (20-29 years old), accounting for 58% of the total number of HIV-infected women.

The rate of children born to HIV-infected mothers is rising dramatically. To date, over 15,000 children have been born to HIV-positive mothers, with 70% of these born in 2202-2004.

Who is at risk

Young People

The majority of newly detected HIV cases in Russia are among young people under the age of 29 years, with the proportion of younger age groups fast increasing. Most HIV-positive young people have contracted the infection through intravenous drug injection.

Women and Children

In 2004, approximately 40% of all newly registered cases of HIV were women. Nowadays, more and more women get HIV-infection through sexual transmission As the proportion of HIV-infected women increases, so does the risk of mother-to-child transmission (MTCT).

The problem of care for HIV-infected and affected children becomes more acute as their numbers increase in many regions of the Russian Federation.  Children born to HIV-positive mothers are often abandoned at birth and are placed in maternity or infectious disease hospitals while others are unable to gain access to education and protection. Pre-schools, schools, and residential care and education institutions are not prepared to enrol these children.

What has been done

UNICEF has initiated a variety of programs in Russia to fight HIV/AIDS and the major threat it causes to the life and well-being of children, young people and women.

Youth-Friendly Services (YFS) provide a range of age appropriate health services, psychological counseling and social support to young people. They are welcoming, confidential and affordable for young people. Since 1999 37 youth-friendly clinics have been established/supported by UNICEF, more than 300 health care professionals trained in youth-friendly counseling and services and about 500,000 adolescents and young people have been provided with treatment, counseling and information on reproductive health, sexual behavior and other delicate health issues.
Life Skills Education (LSE) assists young people in developing the skills they need to protect themselves from HIV/STI/drug abuse and other threats to their well being and development.

Youth Information Centres (YIC) act as clearing houses for collection, production and dissemination of information to young people on various issues like health, HIV/STI, and drug abuse.  This model has been developed and tested in a number of regions. YICs produce information materials, organize awareness campaigns, and train and collaborate with volunteers to provide life saving messages for young people.

UNICEF supports expanded programmes to prevent mother to child transmission (MTCT) of the HIV virus and measures to care for children born to HIV infected mothers.

During 2003-2004, with UNICEF’s direct support, eleven information campaigns on HIV/AIDS prevention were implemented in 8 regions of the Russian Federation. Campaigns varied in scale from a village to a large metropolitan area and entire region.

The future

UNICEF plans to:

- Combat the threat of HIV and AIDs by expanding Youth Friendly Services country-wide. This will mean upgrading the existing model of youth-friendly services in St. Petersburg and establishing it as a national centre for the promotion of youth-friendly approaches, disseminating methodologies and bringing professional knowledge to other regions of the Russian Federation;

-  Encourage the education authorities at the federal level and in selected regions to develop and implement more systematic approaches to Life Skills Education (LSE), including selection and professional assessment of the course and techniques, which have been developed in, and adapted for, Russia;

-  Promote integrated Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) through the development of a regional model system to prevent as many cases of HIV transmission from mother to chlid as possible, and to disseminate proven models and lessons learnt across the country; 

- Develop PMTCT prevention and management capacity-building;

- Improve knowledge and capacity to deliver quality services in PMTCT care and support, for managers and service providers;

- Train up to 250 health care managers and service providers in PMTCT, VCT, paediatric follow-up and treatment, and expose them to best practices in Chelianbinsk and Orenburg.

- Develop a community-based model for the care, education and social protection of HIV-infected and affected children. The goals are to provide health and social services to these children on an equal basis and ensure their enrolment in school;

UNICEF works closely with the Ministry of Health and Social Development, Federal Surveillance Service on HIV/AIDS prevention issues and provides technical assistance as requested by the government (federal and regional).

For more information:

John Brittain, Communication Officer, UNICEF Russian Federation. Tel: (+70 95) 933 8818. Email:






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