A 10-year-old girl from St. Petersburg has reportedly died of complications from AIDS after a lengthy battle in which her adoptive parents cited religious objections in refusing medical treatment for her.
Media reports say the child's adoptive father -- a Russian Orthodox priest -- insisted that he didn't believe in the existence of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS and dismissed it as a hoax invented by greedy pharmaceutical companies.
The child, whose name was withheld along with that of her adoptive parents, died on August 27 at the St. Petersburg Children's Hospital, where she was placed earlier this year after a court ordered the parents to seek treatment for her condition.
But it was too late to save the child, according to St. Petersburg children's ombudsman Svetlana Agapitova.
"She was brought to the intensive care in serious condition with almost no hope [of survival].... It was already too late," the ombudsman's office was quoted as saying.
The parents could face criminal charges.
It was unclear from local reports at what age the couple adopted the girl, but they were said to have previously adopted and raised other children with serious medical conditions. The girl in question was diagnosed with HIV at birth.
But the couple resisted pressure from doctors and authorities for hospital treatment for their adopted daughter, instead seeking alternative, nonconventional treatment.
Doctors alerted the authorities about the case, prompting court trials that lasted a year and a half before the child was finally placed in a hospital. Even during her ongoing treatment, the parents tried to "kidnap" the child from the medical facility, the office of the ombudsman said.
The Russian Orthodox Church in St. Petersburg described the girl's death as a "huge tragedy" and said the church did not ban medical treatment for HIV/AIDS patients. "The church rejects 'AIDS dissidence,'" Archpriest Maksim Pletnyev, head of the St. Petersburg diocese's care center for HIV patients, said.
The church is "realistic" about HIV/AIDS issues, he added.
Yevgeny Voronin, the Health Ministry's chief specialist on HIV-related issues, said the St. Petersburg child's case was "yet another death on the conscience of AIDS deniers," a term used for those who refuse to believe the condition exists.
In the western Siberian city of Tyumen, a father filed a complaint against his wife in which he accused her of refusing medical treatment for the couple's HIV-positive child. That 3-year-old died in a hospital in April.
The woman was charged with negligent homicide, but the case was closed after the man withdrew his complaint. The prosecutors, however, have filed an appeal asking the court to resume the case.
The Health Ministry puts the HIV-positive population in Russia at 860,000, but some nongovernmental groups estimate the real number is around 1.5 million.