Access to Life

I was privileged to be one of eight Magnum photographers who went around the world as part of the Global Fund Access to Life project.The exhibition has already traveled to seven countries and is now at the United Nations in New York.

The GF reports that one billion dollars has been raised as a result of this effort.That means that five million people have been able to go on antiretroviral treatments.

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 were being given free treatments that would keep them alive.

Nguyen Van Louc

Luan 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 hope.
Luoc said he and his brother had shared a needle to inject vitamins, but his brother was infected with AIDS at the time. Sadly, Luoc died before the assignment was completed.


Nguyen Van Louc contracted AIDS from his brother.


Nguyen Van Luoc and his wife return to their home after visiting a local clinic. Due to his delicate health, she steadies him as they walk down a mud path between fields which will eventually grow rice. Two of their dogs greet them as they approach the house.


Nguyen Van Luoc and his wife, Luan at home, Thai Nguyen province, Vietnam, 2007



Nguyen Van Luoc sitting in bed at home late in the morning. Normally  he would be out in the field working, but due to his damaged immune system from HIV, he developed tuberculosis.


Luoc’s wife, Luan at their farmhouse, 2007



Luoc’s aunt helps in the caretaking, 2007



Luoc’s wife and daughter mourn at his grave, 2008


Duong Van Tuyen


Duong Van Tuyen shortly before he died in December 2007, Thái Nguyên Province, 2007



Luong, his wife, cares for Tuyen in their home, 2007



Luong, December 2007


Luong reacts emotionally to discovering that she too is HIV-positive. Although their marriage became rocky once Tuyen was diagnosed with AIDS, Luong was resigned to her fate.


Luong consoles the couple’s son Toan, 2008



Luong visits Tuyen’s grave, 2008



Luong and Toan take a walk in the fields beyond their village. Luong now cares for Toan alone, 2008



Nguyen Quoc Khanh

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.

Nguyen Quoc Khanh, 44, husband of Tiep, father of Tanh, 16, and Binh, 13, began using opium when working in a gold mine. When opium sellers switched to heroin around 1995, Khanh did too, and then succombed to shared needle use.

Khanh first fell ill in 2002 and in 2007 he acquired TB. By the time he started antiretroviral treament, he was so weak he spent most of his life in bed. Only a few months after he began taking his ARVs he had found work and refurbrished their apartment.


Nguyen Quoc Khanh waiting to get his results from his blood test.


Viet Tri City, Vietnam. 2007


Nguyen Quoc Khanh with portrait of himself prepared for a shrine in the event of his death.


Nguyen Quoc Khanh’s wife, Tiep, and son, Binh, watch Nguyen Quoc Khanh in bed.


Nguyen Quoc Khanh lies in bed, Viet Tri, Phu Tho province, Vietnam, 2007



Nguyen Quoc Khanh gets his blood tested, Viet Tri, Phu Tho province, Vietnam, 2007.



After four months of treatment, Nguyen Quoc Khanh showed significant improvement and was able to go back to work. In the evening he demonstrates some martial arts moves to his daughter that he learned in his youth.  His wife is grateful for the dignity the treatment had brought back to her husbandand the family. She says, “when you’re between death and life and you come back, your health becomes precious.”  His work as a painter, sporadic as it is because he can’t afford to travel far, gives him and the family more inspiration than income, but they take it gratefully.

The percentage of Vietnam’s population infected with HIV is still low, at less than 1 percent. Most Vietnamese living with HIV became infected through contaminated needles while injecting drugs, and within this group, the rate of infection is radically higher. Because heroin and other drugs are cheap and casual use is common, HIV infection through drug use affects a larger part of the population in Vietnam than in many other countries.

It is gratifying to know that five million people have already gotten free medicine as a result of the donations made because of this exhibition.


Since the early 1980s, AIDS has ravaged the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Nearly 30 million people have died from AIDS. But over the past few years, a quiet global revolution has enabled millions of people infected by HIV to live healthy lives.

In the early 1990s, when antiretroviral drugs became available, AIDS was transformed from a certain death sentence to a manageable, chronic disease–but only for some. The expense of the drugs and their distribution prevented 95 percent of those living with HIV from getting access to them. International outrage that millions were dying because of economic disparity helped reduce drug prices, and also helped to create the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2002. Through the Global Fund and the U.S. President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, the world began to invest in a massive roll out of antiretroviral treatment in more than 100 developing countries. Doctors and health care workers around the world have adapted complicated procedures to settings where people often could not access even the most basic care. Already, millions of lives that otherwise might have been lost are being saved. Equally important, providing treatment is becoming a central part of the efforts to prevent further spread of the disease.

19 Responses to “Access to Life”

  1. Meritorio tu trabajo Steve…Abrazos..

  2. Sam-Ottawa/ Canada Says:

    Hi Steve,
    I would like to talk with you about a situation in Phu Tho Province North Vietnam involving 32 mine workers –30 dead– and their families, or what’s left behind as many got infected and died as consequence…
    Just got a referral for help from from Minnesota.
    I run a virtual medical miracle network to help poor Vietnamese children afflicted with weird diseases.
    Thanks and Happy Easter

  3. Your photos continue to inspire Steve.

    HIV in Vietnam is also fueled by stigma and discrimination towards those who have it. HIV+ or affected people are often ostracized by their neighbors and families as the education surrounding HIV is targeted mostly to high risk groups. This stigma causes those who are infected to be silent about being HIV-affected. I am wondering if these photos have revealed your subjects and their status in ways that may be detrimental to them, as the internet is quite accessible in Vietnam as is the speed at which information and gossip travels? Which also brings up the discussion, how much does silence contribute to stigma?

  4. Such a powerful and inspiring series of images. Wonderful work!

  5. thanks for the photos… your photos are my inspiration. I have have also seen your pictures taken in the Philippines during the People Power revolution.

  6. As a Vietnamese, I much appreciate your effort on this photo story. It’s so full of emotion and reminds me of my home country and people living there. Thank you, again, Steve.

  7. I am so moved by this incredible photo essay

  8. Thank you, Sir. Your works inspire people.

  9. Steve,

    Your photography always inspires me to do something to help other people’s suffering, even if I am only able to donate.

    Thank you.

  10. Pina Civitarese Says:

    One cannot help but be touched by the photographs. Thank you for educating us, as images are a universal language that need no translation.
    Kudos to you Steve.

  11. […] I was privileged to be one of eight Magnum photographers who went around the world as part of the Global Fund Access to Life project.    The exhibition has already traveled to seven countries and is now at the United Nations in New York. The GF reports that one billion dollars has been raised as a result of this effort.  That means that five million people have been able to go on antiretroviral treatments. I had photographed AIDS patients before, … Read More […]

  12. Hi Steve,

    Photographs are full of emotions.

    No doubt we have few deadly disease challenging science, until science finds a solution awareness is the only way to help refrain from these.

    Still giving those suffering a chance to come to their daily life is a great achievement.


    PS: Please add name in photographs, so that we can link stories with characters.

  13. It must be such a privilege to be allowed into this family’s life and photograph it.

    Such powerful images.

  14. Very touching story and images, where I can learn about part of life and how you capture it. Thanks for sharing this series Steve!

  15. Steve,

    Your recent assignment shows that how much you are involved in your your work. In every image you have able to express a spacial massage to the world. You have not captured a normal you have captured the inner pictures of these patients inner soul. Really it’s a great work.


  16. eric erickson Says:

    Steve, good work interesting as well as important. Thanks for sharing.

  17. beautiful work, spreading a message and doing incredible work in return

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