At-Risk Ukrainian Youth Gain Street Smarts to Prevent HIV

Street Smart’s People Target At-Risk Youth
Nastya holds her son Artyomka.
Oksana Pchelnikova
Counseling helps young people protect themselves and stay healthy
“I will always remember the Street Smart sessions because I’ve learned so many new and useful things for myself: I gained confidence, learned to value my own life and the life of my baby, and I learned to say ‘NO’ when necessary.”

Jan. 2015—Nastya*, a 17-year-old runaway, spent a number of months on the streets and staying with friends in Ukraine. She dropped out of school and frequented a drug house, never sure what the next day would bring.

Just when she was left with nowhere else to go, Nastya discovered the USAID-sponsored Street Smart program, which provides interventions for youth whose behaviors place them at great risk of becoming infected with HIV and sexually transmitted infections. Through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief , USAID implements Street Smart through a local Odessa NGO called “Vira, Nadiya, Lyubov" (Faith, Hope, Love).

Teens living or spending most of their time on the streets are prone to risky behaviors including drug and alcohol abuse and unsafe sex. According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Health, the number of newly registered HIV cases among youth 14 to 24 years of age in Odessa oblast increased more than 30 percent in 2013 over 2012.

During a personal counseling session, Nastya revealed that she was pregnant but had yet to see a doctor because she feared the responsibility as well as the possibility that she might be infected with HIV. The next day, Nastya had a medical checkup and tested negative for HIV.

With USAID support, Nastya obtained affordable housing through a local church and was counseled to overcome many of her fears before giving birth to a healthy boy, Artyomka.

“I will always remember the Street Smart sessions because I’ve learned so many new and useful things for myself: I gained confidence, learned to value my own life and the life of my baby, and I learned to say ‘NO’ when necessary,” says Nastya.

“Today when we visit Nastya, Artyomka is smiling in response to our greetings and so is Nastya,” says Oksana Pchelnikova, director of the Street Smart program.

Since July 2013, more than 600 boys and girls in Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk, Lviv, Mykolayiv and Odesa oblasts benefited from the Street Smart program through USAID sub-grants to seven local organizations.

USAID launched Street Smart to address the need for effective HIV prevention interventions that target at-risk adolescents and youth. Street Smart interventions are shown to reduce unprotected sex, the number of sex partners, and substance use among high-risk youth.

Street Smart is part of USAID’s RESPOND Project, which is designed to help the Ukrainian Government and civil society reduce levels of HIV transmission among key populations and their sexual partners through sustainable country-led programs that increase the quality of HIV/AIDS services. RESPOND is a five-year project that began in 2012.

*Full name withheld to protect identity.

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