The truth about AIDS and Romania's children

Publié: 8 mai 2002 0:00 CET

Cristina Balteanu in Bucharest and John Sparrow in Budapest

Adriana (not her real name) spends sleepless nights wondering how to feed her family. She has four children aged between one and 17, a husband who is out of work and less than US$ 60 a month to get by on. But her anguish does not end there. Two of her children – sons aged five and eight – are infected with HIV, and are already unwell.

In the Danube river city of Giurgiu, on Romania's southern border with Bulgaria, Adriana nurses the boys and agonizes over the family debts. "It is very difficult to cope," she says. "I have an allowance to care for my sons at home and my husband gets social support. But that is it. We don't even have parents in the countryside from whom to get cheap food. The Red Cross helps me with food and clothes, and gives us moral support. You cannot imagine how important that is to us right now."

Marian Macelaru, director of the Giurgiu branch of the Romanian Red Cross, understands only too well. Adriana's is but one family his branch is assisting. There are many similar cases and the tragic fact remains that the majority of HIV/AIDS cases in Romania are among children.

Many of them contracted the virus from blood transfusions provided, in less careful times, as a treatment for anaemia and undernourishment among youngsters. Port cities like Giurgiu were particularly badly affected by contaminated blood, and poverty and high prices that put anti-retroviral drugs beyond the reach of many have exacerbated the suffering.

The plight of the children is one of the driving forces behind Romanian Red Cross action in a global Red Cross and Red Crescent campaign against HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination. With the signature of The truth about AIDS. PASS IT ON..., it was launched worldwide on 8 May, World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day. Besides calling for adequate and compassionate care for victims of the disease, the Romanian Red Cross underlines the need for more openness in the face of the still-growing threat to all sections of the community revealed in regional, national and local statistics.

Ministry of health and family figures from the end of last year, which may not reflect the full extent of the pandemic, showed more than 8,800 people ill as a consequence of HIV/AIDS. Some 301 new cases of HIV infection were recorded during 2001 and 124 new cases of full-blown AIDS. And while children still dominated the statistics the number of adult infections increased, principally through sexual transmission.

The president of the Romanian Red Cross, Professor Nicolae Nicoara, says there is a need to create a climate in which infected people are not marginalized and those in risk categories will not hesitate to volunteer themselves for testing. "Our public messages," he said, "will focus on respect for the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS, the right to live a full and normal life, the right to proper care and medical assistance, the right to moral and material support from the community."

The Romanian Red Cross has long-standing HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention programmes, and these will now be intensified, particularly among young people. Radio will play an important role and Giurgiu is already busy. On 1 May it began a 12-day radio campaign, using a twice-daily competition to spread information. Children have remained high-profile. In the week prior to Orthodox Easter, the branch provided humanitarian relief to deprived families caring for 100 HIV-infected children.

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More on 'The truth about AIDS. PASS IT ON...' campaign