Romanian teenagers with HIV 'facing persecution'

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Romania is consigning a generation of HIV-infected teenagers to a life of persecution on the margins of an unsympathetic society, a study shows.

The findings, by Human Rights Watch (HRW), will make uncomfortable reading for Romania, which is to join the EU next year. The report details the problems endured by more than 7,200 Romanians aged 15 to 19 infected with HIV between 1986 and 1991 due to government incompetence.

The teenagers are the survivors of an ill-conceived programme that resulted in more than 10,000 children at hospitals and orphanages across Romania being exposed to contaminated needles. As children, they underwent minor blood transfusions in the mistaken belief that it would boost their immunity.

More than 15 years later, the report warns that the children are in danger of becoming a leper generation. "Unless the authorities take urgent measures now, unchecked discrimination will push far too many of these children to the margins of society," said Clarisa Bencomo, the report's author.

Forty per cent of the teenagers have no access to education, many doctors refuse to treat them for fear of becoming infected, and prospective employers turn them away when told they are HIV-positive.

Nor are the teenagers able to keep their condition quiet; social workers, government and council officials, postal workers, doctors and teachers ignore patient confidentiality.

Though many of the teenagers live with their families, more than 700 are in orphanages or foster care. "Many children fear they will find themselves on the streets if and when they are forced to leave institutions," the report said.

One serious obstacle is a law providing for mandatory HIV-testing for anyone wanting to become a hairdresser, a beautician, a child carer, a health professional, a cleaner, or work in the food and several other industries.

"It is too much to wish to work in a shop because everywhere I would go they would ask me to show them my medical tests," said Anemona D, aged 17, from Bucharest, who has HIV.