As an organization, SunErgos does not simply work with the orphans in Russia, but the most marginalized groups of children—the sick and stigmatized. It is impossible to approach the subject of orphans in Russia without breaching the topic of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Here are some statistics that may shed a bit of light onto the situation in Russia:
Russia reported in November 2012 that there was a 12% rise since the previous year in HIV cases—200 new cases per day.
In November 2012 there were at least 4,398 children recorded in Russia with HIV—529 of those children died of the disease.
The UNAIDS report on Eastern Europe and Central Asia estimates 69,000-120,000 children ages 0-17 are orphaned due to HIV/AIDS in that region.
The UNAIDS report also states that between 2000 and 2009 the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia nearly tripled.
These statics and reports are terrible alone, but the problems amplify tremendously when considered in conjunction with orphans in Russia. Let us take a step back from numbers and imagine the personal element.
SunErgos works with an HIV/AIDS baby orphanage. Many of the children coming into the baby orphanage have been abandoned at hospitals, police stations, or left to die in dark alleys or dumpsters. These children are not only born with HIV, but have often inherited their mother’s drug and/or alcohol addiction. At first breath, they are burdened with addiction, disability, and disease: consequences of choices they did not make Along with the stigmatized coming from a society that fears HIV, but does not understand the disease, there is not much out there for such youth. The children brought to the HIV baby orphanage are wonderfully taken care of by loving doctors and caring nurses who treat each child’s individual health needs. Yet the question remains: what happens at 17 or 18, when the child faces the real world with a complex disease to control, and no idea how to function and succeed in regular society?
These are the lucky children who receive treatment from the government and orphanages through their formative years. Many children who have HIV live on the streets—unaccounted for, sick, and alone.
Dmitry Kissin, an obstetrician/gynecologist working for the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, says:
“They’re hard to reach and invisible for HIV statistics and often for HIV prevention programs […] No one knows how many street youth there are because no one’s counting them. And when you don’t know about something, you don’t pay attention.”
These youth are living in the streets unaccounted for and untested for HIV.
While significant progress has been made in some areas—in 2010, 88% of pregnant women living with HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia received treatment to prevent transmission to their child—the epidemic continues. Recognizing that not all women are reached by HIV services and programs, the Government of Russia together with UNAIDS and other partners are developing programs to increase access to HIV/AIDS treatment, care, and support services for all women—including people who use drugs, their sexual partners, sex workers, prisoners and other key populations at higher risk of infection. Education is the first step towards healing the stigmatization and continuation of the disease throughout Russia.
Please join with SunErgos international to pray for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Russia, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the world. Keep the unaccounted for and forgotten children in your thoughts and prayers and remember, “But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.” Psalm 10:14 reminds us that though the world has forgotten these children, the Lord has not.
Written by Hilary Morris, past Creative Writing Intern