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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Eastern Europe & HIV

Those of us adopting from Russia, Ukraine, or another Eastern European country are generally more concerned with birth mothers who drink, rather than birth mothers who use drugs.  The alcohol often affects the unborn baby, causing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which can damage the child’s brain for the rest of his life and is not always apparent, or visible, for some years.  But we don’t talk much about HIV.

Tests for the virus are performed on children about to be adopted.  You will know, to some extent, whether or not the child is HIV positive, and whether or not to adopt him.  After several quick tests, not even a true ELISA test, you can be fairly certain if it keeps coming back negative that the child is not a carrier.  The good news is that even without any treatments, only about 1 in 3 children born to positive women will acquire the virus.

The bad news is that HIV and AIDS are skyrocketing throughout Eastern Europe.

For the past decade, we’ve had our eyes mostly on the sub-Saharan region, as well as gay populations worldwide.  In southern and eastern Africa, the rates of HIV have actually (finally) begun to slightly decline, however, simultaneously, the orphan situation is through the roof.  Without adequate care for children, this leads to malnutrition, starvation, lack of education, and lack of a trained, educated, and healthy workforce to take their nations forward in the years ahead.

Yet, other than the organizations in the know, such as UNAIDS, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), along with many non-profits trying to assist, nobody’s watching Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia.  Although the numbers add up to only about 1% of their populations that are infected, since 2001, HIV has increased by 250% in these regions.  Yes, 250%, making it the headquarters of the epidemic’s most rapid expansion.  Russia and Ukraine account for 90% of the newly reported cases of HIV, about 2/3 of that in Russia.

This is staggering.  We need to stem the tide and do it quickly.  So how is the virus being transmitted and among what type of populations?

In these regions, the most infected groups hail from sex industry workers and injecting/intravenous drug users (IDU).  About one quarter of the almost 4 million who inject drugs there are living with HIV.  The highest increase has been in Azerbaijan, with a 377% increase in the number of new infections in the IDU population, whereas in Estonia HIV prevalence may be as high as 72% of the IDUs, rather the 25% found elsewhere.

Can they get help?  Drug addicts are treated as hardened criminals in Russia.  Rehab facilities are run like prisons, and there is no needle exchange program.

Sex workers infected with HIV pose a difficult problem, since not only do they practice unsafe sexual behaviors, but about one third have also injected drugs.  So there are overlapping behaviors, in addition to staggering ignorance.  Only 8% of sex workers in Georgia were able to identify ways of preventing sexual transmission of HIV.  They’re basically sitting ducks.

We should also mention the 50% of women contracting the virus from sexual partners who inject drugs.  And probably most importantly for me, the number of new infections among those aged 15-24 in Eastern Europe increased by 236%.

These are the children, generally older children, whom no one adopts.  They are not HIV+.  But, most likely, they will be, if left to themselves and allowed to age-out of the system at 16 or so.  Orphans are most at risk for these behaviors due to poor supervision and poor job training for their future.

We write to one girl, who was a friend of our boys, and who turns 16 this month.  The prognosis is not good for her and many others.  They need training, and motivational talks, and hope for their future.

Something must be done soon, or it will only worsen.



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2 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar Kathleen says:

    These statistics are staggering. Thank you for raising our awareness.

    • avatar admin says:

      You’re welcome, Kathleen, I honestly didn’t know, either. My oldest son was doing a paper on AIDs orphans in sub-Saharan Africa and while researching, we saw something pop up on Russia. He went in his direction, while I checked more into this.

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