Although Russia is a country with abundant natural resources and a growing economy, social services are underdeveloped and care for vulnerable populations remain poorly funded. Many people still lack adequate access to medical care and other services. The state of the Russian family, which was badly affected by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent economic, political and social crises, remains in turmoil due to high rates of alcoholism and drug use paired with financial instability. Thousands of children are neglected and abused, with an estimated 420,000 living in institutions. Graduates of these institutions rarely receive any preparation for life as an independent adult, and many end up homeless, working illicitly and serving prison sentences for drug-related offences. Additionally, Russia has one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics in the world, and many babies born to HIV-positive mothers are abandoned soon after birth.
Women in Russian prisons are highly vulnerable and disproportionately affected by HIV; over 50% of the prisoners in a female penitentiary near St. Petersburg are HIV-positive, and over half have children under 18 years of age. These women lack HIV-related information, counseling, and access to testing, treatment, care and support before and after release. When available, government pre and post-release services are highly fragmented, leading to homelessness, unemployment, and high rates of recidivism. In 2011, HealthRight began training prisoners in order to prepare them for release, and engaging recently released women in case management in order to help them access social, legal and medical care, and reconnect with their families.
To ensure project sustainability and provide support to our partners, HealthRight co-founded a local nonprofit organization, Doctors to Children, for joint implementation of many projects. HealthRight’s community-based services have also strengthened the local government’s support for child welfare and human rights, and have created vital connections between public services, local organizations, and people in need.