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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Support Center Opens for HIV+ Women and Their Families in St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg, Russia—HealthRight International (formerly Doctors of the World-USA) is pleased to announce the opening of the MAMA+ Center, a complement to its unique “Project for Prevention of Abandonment of Children Born to HIV-Positive Mothers” (“MAMA+”) in St. Petersburg, Russia.

As the HIV epidemic has accelerated in Russia, infant abandonment by HIV-positive mothers has become an increasingly dramatic problem. St. Petersburg has the second highest number of officially registered cases of HIV infection in Russia, and by the end of 2004, the city accounted for almost 17% of all births by HIV-positive mothers in the Russian Federation: 1,575 out of 9,371. In the first six months of 2005 alone, 285 HIV-positive women gave birth in St. Petersburg. With many fearing the enormous stigma and discrimination faced by those with HIV in Russia, many who are risk avoid testing and treatment, leading experts to believe actual numbers to be much higher. This phenomenon is highlighted in a recent Human Rights Watch report Positively Abandoned, which confirms “widespread fear of people with HIV/AIDS throughout Russia has contributed to the abandonment and indefinite segregation of growing numbers of children born to HIV-positive mothers,” and “up to 20 percent may be abandoned by their mothers at birth.” Most of these children are institutionalized in hospitals, “babies’ homes,” and orphanages.
 
Through the MAMA+ Project, HealthRight has developed a network to enable early identification of pregnant HIV-positive women at risk of abandoning their children, and has designed and implemented services to keep families together though comprehensive social, medical, and psychological care. HealthRight is documenting and disseminating MAMA+ best practices within the maternal and child health professional community in Russia; in turn reducing stigma and enhancing the capacity of specialists, who raise awareness of the value of integrating MAMA+ principles into service provision.
 
Created in close partnership with the St. Petersburg Children’s Infectious Disease Hospital and local NGO Doctors to Children, and made possible by grants from The World Childhood Foundation and ARO, the HealthRight MAMA+ Center supplements the project’s home-based support, and provides critical services to HIV-positive mothers and their families, including confidential counseling, medical check ups for children and daycare services that allow mothers to seek employment, secure state-sponsored assistance, and run household errands. The Center also offers peer support programs.