Children must be raised by families. Although this inalienable children’s right is self-evident, young mothers are abandoning their babies in increasing numbers, especially physically handicapped babies. Other category of children, born to HIV-positive mothers, is doomed to life in an orphanage almost as soon as they are conceived. According to statistics collected by the Ukrainian Ministry of Health, as of July 1, 2006, over 14,000 children have been born to HIV-positive mothers. In Ukraine, the number of HIV-positive mothers shows an annual 14 percent increment, with every fifth woman abandoning her baby right in the maternity hospital.
Often the reason for abandonment is the mother’s reduced financial status or fear that her family will refuse to accept the child. A number of mothers have no permanent job or their own home, or are poorly paid, or already have children. Last but not least, there is little information about HIV/AIDS, the ways the virus is spread, and lack of social, psychological, and other types of assistance to HIV-positive women and young mothers.
With support from the World Childhood Foundation under Swedish Queen Silvia’s patronage, Doctors of the World-USA (DOW) have launched the “Prevention of Abandonment of Children Born to HIV+ Mothers Project” (MAMA+) to help children born of HIV-infected women remain “in a birth family environment.” During the first year of operations the project helped 82 children.
According to one of the project’s clients, HIV-positive mothers do not expect the authorities to take an interest in their problems, let alone feel genuine concern for them. Usually after being diagnosed, these women are disowned by their immediate relatives, parents, and husbands and are left to cope with their problems alone.
Today this project, which is aimed at preventing such mothers from abandoning their babies, involves local maternity hospitals, AIDS prevention centers, and antenatal clinics, where expectant women are told how they can prevent the deadly virus from infecting their babies. They are also helped psychologically and materially. Last year, the budget-sustained HIV-positive-mothers-relief program gave such women and their babies 9 million hryvnias for immediate and preventive treatment.
The government’s support of HIV-AIDS-affected people still remains to be improved. Yevhen Zhovtiak, Chairman of the Coordinating Council, LZhV All-Ukraine Network, says that the first HIV-infected mutual relief centers emerged spontaneously, owing to the government’s inactivity. Project MAMA+ is proving extremely effective. “Over this period more than 15,000 families have joined the project and the results have surpassed our most optimistic forecasts, for not a single mother involved in this project has abandoned her baby,” says Zhovtiak.
Last week Swedish Queen Silvia supported the Ukrainian initiative when, during an informal visit to Ukraine, Her Majesty visited one of such HIV/AIDS social relief centers. The queen communicated with HIV-infected mothers who had refused to abandon their babies thanks to MAMA+. Sometimes it is difficult to detect people afflicted with this horrible disease, yet efforts must be made to find as many as possible. Human contact must be established with them. It is hard to refute this thesis; most HIV-infected women in Ukraine are simply unaware of such relief projects. At present, over 400 HIV-positive children are kept at special children’s homes, with another 4,000 or thereabouts waiting to be finally diagnosed, being kept on record at dispensaries. After all, not every child born to a HIV-positive mother follows suit. This can be determined in one or one and a half yr. after childbirth. A number of women abandon such babies simply because they are not sure of their own resources. All this government can offer these little orphans is a possibility to be accepted by foster families. Anyway, 23 HIV-positive children will be made welcome in full-fledged families this year.