AIDS/ The fight in favour of HIV-positive children in Romania
I am very puzzled by the outcry and controversy following what the Holy Father said about the fight against AIDS. I live in Romania where I work with HIV-positive young people, and besides being deeply convinced that AIDS is not fought with condoms, I maintain that this is not the point! Engaging in useless controversies does not help us to look at reality, a reality that is made up of people like you and me and not by proclamations.
In fact, I must add that I am very worried about what is happening in this country where I live, because, within a few years, we are at risk of seeing an explosion of the AIDS problem without any warning, even though we are all very well informed about using condoms.
In Romania, the epidemiology of AIDS appears to be a unique case: Romania is the country in the world where cases of HIV or AIDS due to non-sexual horizontal transmission still occur twenty-five years after the start of the pandemic, the most in any recorded case. It is the only country in the world where the number of children who have died from AIDS is higher than that of adults. And it is the only country in the world where the majority of those infected are teenagers. The figures speak for themselves. In Romania, from December 1985 to December 2007 (the latest data available), there were 15,085 cumulative cases of HIV-AIDS, 9,737 of those diagnosed were children and 5,348 adults (data from the Joint Multisectorial Committee to Fight AIDS).
In 1994, the AVSI Foundation, with which I have worked for 11 years, started building the pediatric wing of the Victor Babes Hospital of Infectious Disease in Bucharest, where AIDS-afflicted children were living in quite inadequate conditions. The new facility followed the excellent model of the Bambin Gesù, which also trained the medical staff and paramedics.
No one expected that better medical treatment would have improved the survival of these HIV-positive children, which created a new social issue, because these children then faced being institutionalized.
In 1996, in collaboration with a new local NGO, Fundatia Dezvoltarea Popoarelor (Foundation for the Development of Peoples), new social and foster care projects began. In 1998, a new project was launched with the difficult task of finding the families of origin of abandoned HIV-positive children to reintegrate them in their families.
We met and tried to deinstitutionalize about 50 abandoned children at Victor Babes Hospital and about 100 children in Vidra, a village about 20 km from Bucharest. At the same time, we helped support fifty families to prevent the abandonment of another 50 HIV positive children by their natural families. Between 2000 and 2003, three family houses were started with 21 children and 6 families who accepted 7 HIV-positive children from the same institute.
What is important is that these children that we have come to know over the years, who we have loved and accompanied on their path, have now become adults and begun to live a new phase of their lives, the same phase that thousands more HIV-positive adolescents like them have reached in Romania.
Their questions are becoming more pressing: "How long will I live?"; "Can I have a family?"; "If I have children, will they be healthy?" Their desires are not exhausted by having a "protected relationship"; they want much more. They want fulfillment, they want normality, they desire happiness, just as I do. These kids are now starting to test their freedom by taking paths to try to conquer their autonomy in their social life and at work. They are falling in love, going to work (at least they try), and they often experience much anger over their abandonment and their illness, circumstances we cannot deny and which each of them must account for every morning when they wake up, if, among other things, they still want to wake up.
How is it possible that we stop always and only at speaking of condoms? Can't we see that the problem lies elsewhere? Why is it so hard to look at the person in the totality of his desire, his waiting, his need? Personally, every day I am aware of the risk of reducing one of "my" kids to just a patient, even with a proper concern for protecting them. I see the risk of looking at each of them as "HIV positive" and not as a unique and unrepeatable person with a heart, with the same questions and needs for happiness and fulfillment that are in my heart. When I am more aware and I look at their faces, I see that their hearts want so much more, and cry out all the more!
(Simona Carobene - AVSI Romania)