I had photographed AIDS patients before, but this assignment was different. It offered me the chance to see the positive results of the new AIDS treatments. The plan was that I was to meet the people who, thanks to outside funding, were being given free treatment that would keep them alive. The majority of people who get treatment, I was told, can return to normal lives. So I began the assignment thinking I’d start with people who were very sick but who would then have some dramatic turnaround. It didn’t turn out that way.
Luong was a young woman who had just married at 19, had a small child, and expected to live a typical farmer’s life in the countryside. Out of the blue, she learned that her husband was dying from AIDS – and that she too had been infected with the virus. Knowing free treatment was available was the one thing that gave her a little bit of breathing room.
Luoc said he and his brother had shared a needle to inject vitamins, but his brother was infected with AIDS at the time. Why hadn’t he known better? It’s hard to know whether he had ever received information about the ways that HIV is spread, or if he just hoped it wouldn’t happen to him.
The third person I photographed was Tiep. She had a breakfast stall in the market that was her family’s main source of income. But once people learned that her husband, Khanh, had AIDS, many of them stopped buying food from her. Yet Khanh represents the positive side of the AIDS story; he’s now recovering and knows it wouldn’t have turned out this way had he not received free treatment.
Many of us are in a position to help others, but few of us are aware of that we can do – or what a difference our contribution can make. I hope my photographs help people become more informed and find a way to contribute.
My pictures and the pictures of the other Magnum photographers who participated in this project for The Global Fund are on tour and will be at the Stenersen Museum in Oslo from June 20 – August 9.