About 1,300 miles east of Moscow, in the city of Tyumen, a three-year-old girl is reportedly dying of AIDS. Unfortunately for the child, her mother, Yulia Yakovleva, denies the existence of the human immunodeficiency virus, and believes instead that her daughter’s illness is the result of complications from a vaccination for hepatitis B.
For that reason, the girl has received no antiretroviral therapy, and her life is now in serious danger.
On March 2, Yakovleva appealed anonymously on Vkontakte to a group of HIV-deniers, asking for help. She described herself as a woman diagnosed with HIV who’s never accepted any medical treatment for the condition.
Yakovleva said she gave birth to a daughter three years ago. After about 18 months, the child became ill and suddenly “stopped growing.” Today, “she doesn’t sit up and she doesn’t move,” Yakovleva wrote.
Last month, her daughter was reportedly hospitalized with anemia and malnutrition. Doctors diagnosed her with several conditions: lung damage, a fungal infection, Epstein–Barr virus, and carditis — all signs of advanced HIV infection.
Yakovleva said she later allowed the doctors to test her daughter for HIV, “so they’d stop nagging,” and the test came back positive.
Nevertheless, Yakovleva says she is sticking to osteopathy and homeopathic remedies. For help, she’s even turned to Olga Kovekh, an infamous HIV-denier who poses as a “doctor therapist.” In Kovekh’s opinion, the three-year-old girl’s immunity and nervous system were “damaged” by antibiotics once prescribed by doctors and by a hepatitis inoculation.
No longer writing anonymously, Yakovleva thanked Kovekh for sharing her expertise.
“HIV/AIDS Dissidents and Their Children,” a Vkontakte group that tracks people who deny the existence of HIV and AIDS, first drew attention to Yakovleva’s story, reaching out to her in a direct message, warning her against trusting Kovekh’s advice.
Yakovleva didn’t appreciate the message, however, and asked not to be bothered again.
In Russia, deliberately refusing life-saving treatment to a child with a chronic illness is grounds for seizing custody.
According to Elena Orlova-Morozova, a senior physician at Russia’s Center Against AIDS, HIV-deniers with children are aware that they might be breaking the law, and they often take steps to avoid the authorities’ attention, either by staying away from HIV centers or by taking the antiretroviral medication from doctors, without ever giving it to their children.
“We had one case where the parents took their child and fled to Ukraine, after we alerted social services,” Orlova-Morozova told the news site Znak.com.
According to the group “HIV/AIDS Dissidents and Their Children,” at least 60 minors in Russia have died in the past several years thanks to untreated HIV infections. Thirteen of those deaths were children under the age of ten, the group says.
The nonprofit “AIDS.Center” — an organization launched last year by journalist Anton Krasovsky — has appealed to Anna Kuznetsova, Russia’s commissioner for children's rights, asking her office to investigate Yakovleva’s case.