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Monday, July 14, 2008

Halfway House To Open for HIV-Positive Youth

Drug-involved youth living with HIV will receive treatment and rehab services in St. Petersburg

HealthRight International's HIV outreach team first encountered 17-year old Igor in poor health and using drugs, sharing a run-down apartment with several other drug users.  Building his trust over many visits, they convinced him to take an HIV test.  The test returned positive and HealthRight staff responded quickly, registering Igor at the St. Petersburg City AIDS Center for treatment and arranging for him to receive counseling, drug rehabilitation, and vocational training.  Staff also made contact with Igor’s parents and in May 2007 escorted Igor as he was reunited with his family.  Today, he lives with his parents and works as a mechanic.  He is proud to have overcome his drug addictions and he continues HIV treatment at the City AIDS Center. 

In 2008, HIV-positive street youth like Igor will have a stable, safe place to receive support and drug rehabilitation.  With the support and close collaboration of the Frunzensky Rayon of St. Petersburg, HealthRight and local partner Doctors to Children will open a Halfway House to meet the needs of this overlooked population.  The Halfway House will provide the permanence and stability necessary to overcome drug dependence, and will also assist youth in adhering to complex HIV treatment regimens. 

Young Lives at Risk

St. Petersburg is home to thousands of street youth who have slipped through the cracks, living in deplorable conditions and shunned by society.  Some are orphans, some have been abandoned, and others are neglected by families and society because of substance abuse and poverty.  Many resort to drug use and transactional sex to cope and survive, placing themselves at even greater risk for contracting HIV and other diseases.  Adding to their struggles for essentials like food and shelter is the tremendous discrimination they face in accessing state-sponsored medical and social services; lack of official documentation is routinely cited as basis for denial.  

In 2006, HealthRight launched a study analyzing HIV prevalence among St. Petersburg’s street youth.  The alarming results exceeded even the worst expectations: 37.4% of street youth were found to be living with HIV.  Even more shocking was the rate found among injection drug users: 80% tested positive for HIV.  Very few resources exist for street youth in St. Petersburg living with HIV or  drug dependence.  Most youth know little about HIV transmission and prevention, and the few who know their HIV-status have little or no access to needed services and medication.

With a roof over their heads and a supportive staff to rely on, halfway house residents will participate in long-term drug rehabilitation while following their treatment regimen.  Staff will work with residents to develop the skills necessary for independent living and maintaining a healthy and drug-free lifestyle. 

“Street youth succumbing to drugs or living with HIV face immense challenges,” said Tom Dougherty, HealthRight Executive Director.  “We are thrilled the Frunzensky Rayon invited us to work with them to develop such an innovative and critically needed program.  It will provide young people in crisis with an alternative to the street, empowering them to overcome their addictions, receive the medical care they need, and start toward a brighter future.”
 
To learn more about HealthRight’s work in Russia, please visit: www.healthright.org/where-we-work/russia 

* From 1990 to 2009, HealthRight International was know as Doctors of the World-USA.