Orphans & Vulnerable Children

Among the populations served by Doctors of the World – USA (DOW) projects, children remain the most vulnerable.

When children are deprived of healthy development – as millions are around the world – their rights have been violated. DOW is working to restore and protect the basic rights of groups of children: those in institutions, with disabilities, on the street, or made vulnerable to or orphaned by diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

Shouldering a disproportionate burden. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), children under five years of age experience approximately one third of the global burden of disease and child deaths account for about one fifth of all deaths each year. Lack of health and support services leave children vulnerable to infectious diseases (such as TB and HIV/AIDS), abuse, and neglect. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has infected millions of children and left millions more orphaned. Inadequate maternal and neonatal health services, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, result in high morbidity and mortality rates for mothers and infants. In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, stigma surrounding HIV and a lack of health and support services result in alarming rates of child abandonment by HIV-positive mothers. High rates of child abuse in Nepal are made worse by non-existent programs to identify, address, treat or prevent such abuse.

Neglected in institutions and on the street. Tens of millions of children who have been abandoned, orphaned, or neglected live on the street or in poorly run institutions. Those on the street are frequently deprived of basic rights, including access to health care and education. Some become addicted to drugs, and all face the heightened threat of HIV/AIDS. Institutionalization often means a deprivation of liberty for children (many with disabilities), characterized by discrimination, abuse, and neglect. Common rights violations in institutions include physical and mental abuse, malnutrition, and denial of the right to education and participation.

Building community and family services for at-risk children and youth. DOW projects prevent or redress this deprivation of liberty and child development through early intervention and deinstitutionalization efforts. We pilot replicable models of community-based homes and services that provide education, healthcare, and vocational training in a family environment. Drop In Centers (DICs) in Russia and Ukraine supply free health care, counseling, and legal support for street and at-risk children and youth. Our HIV outreach program in Russia targets this population, offering free testing as well as medical and social services. In Kosovo, our Deinstitutionalization Project transferred children from negligent institutions to community-run group homes, providing the tools they needed for development and skills for independent living.

A child’s health is dependent upon a mother’s health. Recognizing the inextricable link between a child and a mother’s health, DOW has responded to the dearth of health services for women around the world with maternal and neonatal care programs, Women’s Wellness Centers, medical and social support services, and HIV/AIDS programs. The Partnership for Maternal and Neonatal Health in the West Pokot District of Kenya improves the quality of antenatal, emergency and newborn care, thereby reducing the high rate of preventable deaths among women and infants. Our HIV/AIDS project in the region aims to reduce mother-to-child transmission. Using community-based awareness and training programs, DOW also reduces stigma for HIV-positive mothers, encourages early detection and treatment, and provides support services. The MAMA+ project in Russia and Ukraine provides comprehensive care and support to HIV-positive mothers at-risk of abandoning their children, empowering them to keep their children in a healthy and nurturing birth family environment.

Mobilizing communities to address and treat child abuse. In response to high rates of child abuse in Nepal, DOW programs build the capacity of health care providers to screen, detect, treat and refer cases of child abuse. DOW also engages community leaders and clinicians to combat future abuse.

The threats to child survival are enormous, but surmountable. DOW strengthens health education and services through partnership with local government and civil society, building capacity to implement and sustain improvements. Supporting families, giving providers the tools for the best care possible, ensuring women have access to information and services, and developing community-based child welfare and intervention services can make a dramatic improvement in the odds for survival of children around the world.



KENYA: Partnership for Maternal & Neonatal Health

NEPAL: Child Protection

RUSSIA: Access to HIV Testing, Prevention, and Care for Street Youth

RUSSIA: MAMA+ for HIV-Positive Mother and Their Children

RUSSIA: Support for Street & At-Risk Youth

UKRAINE: MAMA+ for HIV-Positive Mothers and Their Children

UKRAINE: Support for Street & At-Risk Youth

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