Thousands of HIV-positive children face discrimination in Romania, where vast, filthy orphanages were a breeding ground for AIDS before the 1989 fall of communism, a human rights group said on Wednesday.
A report by U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said Romania’s failure to promote the integration of more than 7,200 sick children aged 15 to 19, the largest such group in any European state, has kept many from attending school, getting healthcare or jobs.
“There are thousands of infected children who will turn 18 in a year or two. Romania urgently needs to plan their future,” Clarisa Bencomo, the author of the study, told a news conference.
“Unless authorities take urgent measures now, unchecked discrimination will push far too many of these children to the margins of society ... This is not an issue of resources, this is an issue related to political will.”
Tens of thousands of children were abandoned in communist Romania following dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s ban on birth control as he dreamed of creating a worker society, modelled on the example of North Korea.
AIDS spread in orphanages because of unsafe medical practices, badly screened blood, routine blood transfusions for underweight babies and antibiotics administered by injection.
Fewer than 60 percent of children living with HIV attend school and those who do risk ostracism and abuse by teachers and expulsion if their status becomes known, the report said. Since 1990, Romania has attracted repeated criticism from pro-democracy groups over cases of breaching the rights of HIV-positive people, police violence and discrimination against homosexuals and ethnic minorities.
Romanian society has been slow to accept rights for its minorities and ignorance about AIDS remains widespread.
Bencomo said authorities must remove legislative barriers that have led to widespread discrimination such as mandatory HIV testing as a condition for employment.
“Children who are refused medical care get sicker ... children who are denied the right to education and work will not be able to support themselves and their families,” Bencomo said.
She said Romania must also provide appropriate sanctions against civil servants, medical and social personnel for discrimination against sick people.
“We have to make a step forward and tell people we are normal human beings. We don’t need mercy, we only need people to understand us,” said Adrian, an HIV-infected teenager, who did not give his last name.
Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD