The Human Side of HIV/AIDS: Photo Essay

Jul 23, 2010
Laurel is an L.A. native through and through who has been working with socially conscious endeavors since 2007.


With coverage of the 2010 International AIDS Conference coming to a close, TakePart wanted to surface this photo essay excerpt from Positive Lives to bring focus to real people living with this disease every day.

Positive Lives is a unique global photography project that supports those living with HIV/AIDS and challenges the stigma and prejudice they face living with the disease.

The project is one of the world's most acclaimed HIV/AIDS photography projects. It was established in 1993 by a group of activists who believed that properly portrayed, the 'human story' behind HIV and AIDS could challenge the sources of ignorance and prejudice that are still deeply entrenched in the movement to end AIDS.

All photos and quotes courtesy of Positive Lives, in partnership with the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Lon Navy, age 40, Cambodia

Photograph by Barry Lewis / Corbis / Positive Lives / International HIV/AIDS Alliance

"I've been a widow for four years since my husband, who was a police bodyguard, died of AIDS. When I was tested positive, I couldn't believe it. I felt so well so I went for another four tests before I was convinced. I was both desperate and angry with my husband. I wanted to commit suicide but I had three kids. He was sick and I loved him still. I am a volunteer with an HIV/AIDS support group. I am known and trusted in the community and have persuaded over 100 people to have the test. I also arrange transport and take them to the hospital when they are sick. It's so corrupt here for us poor, we can never get a bed in the hospital—no bribe, no bed. It's so hard to keep going and to be alone looking after three kids. I am starting to feel more sick and have recently lost one stone. Are there any drugs which can save me?"

Raphael, age 12, Mozambique

Photograph by Jenny Matthews / Panos / Positive Lives / International HIV/AIDS Alliance

Rafael and his mother Graca, working on their machamba. Rafael is 12 and, as the only boy, is responsible for his mother and three sisters.

"My life is difficult. When my father died, all my friends made fun of me. Today things have got better, but not completely. I lost a year of school helping my father when he was in hospital. I didn't know what was the matter with him since no one told me anything. I only found out when the symptoms became very obvious and then I recognized what he had from books I'd read. I wasn't able to save my father but I'm sad that the doctors weren't able to do anything to help him. I'm sorry that other young people don't believe in HIV/AIDS. I, who saw my father die and lived through his suffering, think that people should be more responsible. We have to help each other to make life different... My family has seven children, but three are married and not at home. I'm the oldest boy and I have to be the head of the family. That's what my father told me—take care of the family, and help your mother... My hope is to get some help. I would like my familly to be better off. At the moment we feel abandoned and only have rice from the machamba to eat... My mother works washing up in a bar some evenings a week, but she doesn't finish till midnight and then has to walk home alone. I want to study so that I can be someone and help my family. I want to fight against those adults who say AIDS doesn't exist. We need a happy country."

Emmanuel Singizumakiza, Rwanda

Photograph by Stuart Freedman / Panos / Positive Lives / International HIV/AIDS Alliance

Emmanuel Singizumakiza (left) is a health educator in Kibaye. He shows a boy how to use a condom.

"Yes, I give out condoms—often in secret, in private. Sometimes people come for one or two—but sometimes to save them returning and being identified, I give twenty at a time. When a boy doesn't know how to use them I show him in secret. I show him quietly."

Suman Ppapat Gorad, Sangli, India

Photograph by Nilayan Dutta / Drik / Positive Lives / International HIV/AIDS Alliance

“It was really shocking for me when I tested HIV positive one-and-a-half years ago after my husband died through AIDS. But the most horrible time was when the whole village refused to send their children to the school where I work as a cook; they demanded I stop working there as I am a HIV positive. They believed I could spread the virus amongst the children. I wanted to commit suicide during that time, but then I met with an organization called SANGRAM that helps and support positive people. They heard my story and immediately started a campaign in my village to help everyone understand the truths and facts of HIV. After this I was able to start working again in the school. I have three children. To support my family I have my job at the school and I also have my own farmland where I grow crops. I just want to live, work and look after my children.”

Archana Bhauru Kamble, Sangli,  India

Photograph by Nilayan Dutta / Drik / Positive Lives / International HIV/AIDS Alliance

“I was completely shocked when I saw my blood report was positive after my husband died, but my in-laws and neighbors provided me great support to overcome the mental trauma at that time. Now I work in a Public Health Center in my village to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS. Today I always say to the people, 'Look at me, how happily I am living and taking care of my two children, I never feel sad about being HIV positive.' I think many people living with HIV are still not free from the social stigma in our society and it is our duty to fight against the virus as well as the discrimination.”

View the entire Positive Lives project on Flickr.

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