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Parents of AIDS Child Sue Authorities in Landmark Case

February 20, 1995

IASI, Romania (AP) _ The parents of a 6-year-old girl are suing the state for allegedly giving their daughter AIDS, in an unprecedented case that illustrates the ignorance and fear of the disease that persist here.

Violeta Calinciuc says her daughter, Iasmina, was infected through a blood transfusion the child received in 1992 at state-run St. Mary Hospital in Iasi, a small town in northeastern Romania.

The family’s legal fight is remarkable both because it deals with a still-taboo topic and because people in this former Communist country rarely stand up to authorities. The trial is to begin today.

``My child is a victim of the system I fight to change,″ said Mrs. Calinciuc, a 28-year-old TV journalist. ``It’s not just for Iasmina I’m doing this, but for all the children.″

Dictator Nicolae Ceasescu had insisted that AIDS was a phenomenon of the decadent West and did not exist in Romania. Ignorance of AIDS far outlasted Ceausescu, who was executed in December 1989.

When neighbors found out last month that the small, brown-haired girl had AIDS, one scrubbed the stairwell with bleach. Others feared their children would get sick from sharing her birthday cake.

Under Ceausescu, undernourished infants were injected with blood to boost their weight. The practice spawned about 1,800 cases of infant AIDS, leaving Romania with more pediatric AIDS cases than any other European country.

The Health Ministry and hospital have said Iasmina may have contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from any one of a large number of infant vaccinations and injections.

Colleagues had told the Calinciucs that even if Iasmina had contracted the disease in a state-run hospital, it was crazy to sue the government. There is little tradition in this Balkan country of standing up to the authorities in individual rights cases.

Mrs. Calinciuc says she hopes the $190,000 lawsuit against the government and the hospital will help prevent further cases. Not until 1992 did it become mandatory to screen blood for AIDS.

Iasmina does not know she has the disease. A slight girl with long hair and glasses, she enjoys painting, pop music and puppets. Her best friend is an Australian parakeet called Rocco.

``When I grow up, I want to be a doctor,″ she said, snuggling on her father’s knee in the kitchen of their small apartment. ``So I can give injections to children and make them better.″

Her father, Gabriel, 29, said he had not summoned the courage to tell his daughter about her condition.

Lawyer Eugen Safta-Romano, who is representing the family free of charge, said while there is no law explicitly allowing Romanians to sue the government, they are allowed to sue individuals and the institutions they represent.

The law tries to discourage suits. Plaintiffs have to pay a tax amounting to 10 percent of total damages sought before the trial even begins. That payment, so far, has been postponed in Iasmina’s case.

``The whole point of this case is as an alarm signal so it doesn’t happen again,″ said Safta-Romanor. ``People have to know they have fundamental rights as a human being.″

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