The HIV/AIDS pandemic is the single most devastating health problem that has confronted humanity since the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages. It threatens to wipe out entire generations of people in the developing world, killing hundreds of millions of people before it is finally brought under control. Unfortunately, since HIV has been largely confined to the homosexual and inner-city drug-using communities in developed nations, an umbrella of complacency has overshadowed its inevitable move into the general population. Furthermore, since medical advances have slowed its progress in the West, it has been largely, though inaccurately, assumed that AIDS is now just a "chronic" disease, which can be effectively controlled with a rigorous drug regimen.

In fact, far from being under control, AIDS is mutating and becoming more resistant to drugs at an alarming new pace. Furthermore, new strains of HIV are ravaging large sections of the African continent, and are inevitably headed to the West.

Throughout much of the developing world, AIDS is continuing its deadly march at a relentless speed. And because of the silent prejudice which surrounds AIDS, as well as the enormous moral and financial obstacles of fighting it, it continues its spread largely unabated.

According to UNAIDS,* it is estimated that more than 20 million people have already lost their lives to AIDS, suffering the most painful and humiliating deaths. Forty million live with AIDS today, most of whom have little hope of surviving. In a report released by the World Bank, the World Health Organization, and UNAIDS in November, 2000, it was estimated that roughly 10 million children would lose their mothers to AIDS; and that within ten years, the virus would likely leave 40 million children orphaned, as many youngsters as now live in the United States east of the Mississippi River. Roughly 50% of the girls in sub-Saharan Africa who turn 15 years-old that year were predicted to contract the virus during the course of their lifetimes and, if current statistics are not altered, 98% will die.

In many parts of Africa, whole nations live in the shadow of death. Over two-thirds of the global total of people who are HIV-positive live in sub-Saharan Africa, on a continent that holds just 10% of the world's population. Every minute of every day, six young people are infected. An average child born today in Botswana or Zimbabwe, for example, can expect to live less than 40 years, compared to 62 years in an AIDS-free environment. Every day, on the continent of Africa alone, more than five thousand people are buried who have died of AIDS-related causes.

The impact of this devastating sickness is almost unfathomable. It is not only a personal calamity of unspeakable sadness for individuals and families, but a plague of monumental proportion to whole economies, destroying the very fabric of society, a self-fulfilling prophecy of isolation and despair.

AIDS is eliminating not only Africa's present, but its future as well; for it is removing much of an entire generation of people during what would otherwise have been their most productive years, taking fathers and mothers away from children, teachers away from students, as well as adding significant numbers of newborn children who come into the world infected, in an unending cycle of tragedy.

In the face of this overwhelming problem, attention must be refocused to give the HIV/AIDS virus the most universally understandable clarity possible; to humanize and individualize the statistics by showing the faces and telling the personal stories of some of those who've been affected by HIV/AIDS, who struggle to live with it and, almost without exception, to die with it. Ultimately, the purpose of this project is to underline the urgent need to eradicate the plague which, in Kiswahili, means a shame has fallen on the earth. In order to accomplish that, readily available resources from the West must be allocated where they are most urgently needed, and behavioral change must be encouraged in developing nations, while respecting local culture and tradition.

*UNAIDS AIDS epidemic update—December 2001

—January 30, 2002


“In the public discussion of HIV/AIDS in Africa, we hear a great deal about numbers -- infection rates, prevalence rates, mortality rates. Andrew Petkun’s photographs remind us of the people behind those numbers. The men, women, and children living with this terrible disease, struggling to make it through each day. Their courage in the face of HIV/AIDS, captured by Mr. Petkun’s images, is an inspiration to us all.” --
James D. Wolfensohn, President, The World Bank, Washington, D.C.

“Andrew Petkun’s powerful and eloquent photographs of people living with HIV/AIDS, his passion for the subject, as well as his innovative approach to HIV/AIDS education made his visit a resounding success. His sound knowledge of the African context, his powerful and eloquent pictures of people living with HIV/AIDS, and his genuine passion for the subject contributed to the success of the overall program. His photographs and stories provoked compassion from audiences and sparked lively discussions. For the first time in Cameroon, people living with HIV/AIDS accepted to be photographed and expressed their willingness to testify in public. Photojournalists and journalists participating in workshops agreed that Andrew Petkun’s approach was very humane and effective, and resolved to create a network of humanitarian photojournalists in Cameroon. Andrew Petkun is an excellent speaker who fervently believes in his cause and can work tirelessly.” -- Andree Johnson, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy, Yaounde, Cameroon

“Andrew Petkun is a photojournalist with an uncanny ability to use his medium to remind people that the "P" in Public Health stands for People.”
-- Kimberly Sessions, EdD, Assistant Director, Emory Center for AIDS Research, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta

“I strongly recommend Mr. Petkun. He is an admirable speaker and an excellent image of the humanitarian spirit of America. One of the most interesting aspects of programming Andrew, in any language, is his ability to reach out to his audience with emotions that need no language. The image he portrays (the three Hs: humility, humaneness, humanity - and caring) is the best that America has to offer in these troubled times.”
-- Miriam E. Guichard, Director, Africa Regional Services, U.S. Embassy, Paris, France

“The power you have in your work is beyond words. Not one presentation in all the conferences I have been to have managed to touch people as yours has done. Midway through your presentation, the air in the room changed, and it’s a change that every humanitarian wants.”
-- Mahlet Woldemariam, Children’s Hospital AIDS Program, Boston

“Your speech was informative, compelling, and powerful. In a world that has "compassion fatigue" your photographs just might get through.” -- Wendy D. Puriefoy, President, Public Education Network, Washington, D.C.

“Andrew Petkun is a photographer and human rights advocate whose work focuses on communicating the impact of the AIDS pandemic on individuals and societies. Andrew's presentation was moving, and in fact, very informative even for an audience that was comprised of knowledgeable AIDS researchers and clinicians...and they seemed to be among the people most inspired and moved by Andrew's presentation.” -- Mark B. Feinberg, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine and Microbiology & Immunology,
Emory University School of Medicine and The Emory Vaccine Research Center, Atlanta

“Andrew Petkun is a passionate speaker with a gift of establishing an instant rapport with his audiences. His use of photographs was very effective in giving HIV/AIDS a human dimension and couching the message of de-stigmatizing the disease in immediate, personal, and poignant terms. His listeners described his presentations as “extremely educational,” “compassionate,” “a real voice to the people who suffer, who have no voice,” and spoke of his “real sense of connection with the children, men, and women suffering.” Mr. Petkun made a very significant contribution to increase awareness of the reality and seriousness of HIV/AIDS epidemic.” -- Ilya Levin, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy, Asmara, Eritrea

“Andrew Petkun has dedicated his life to photographing the AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. His work seeks to put a human face on the statistics. Petkun's work reminds us that these are people, with hopes, with families that they try to maintain, and with dignity and courage.” -- Lonnie Bunch, Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

“Your reputation for successful speaking engagements on behalf of our issues (HIV/AIDS in particular) and the Department of State precede you and your work in photojournalism. Your passion for the issues and the people with whom you work so well clearly shines through your words.” -- Nancy Carter-Foster, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.

“People were touched and moved by the passion Andrew Petkun conveyed as he told the story behind each of his photos.” -- Ambassador John Limbert, U.S. Embassy, Nouakchott, Mauritania

“I can't tell you what a difference your being here made not only for the conference, but especially for the journalists you traveled with. People are still commenting on the power of your pictures and what an impact it made.” -- Shelby Smith-Wilson, Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy, Nairobi, Kenya

“Your passion for your work, patience, and understanding made it a real pleasure working with you, and a good learning experience.” -- Mathias Tientcheu, Public Affairs Office, U.S. Embassy, Yaounde, Cameroon

“Thanks again for a wonderful presentation. You are really great in front of an audience, so that when combined with your outstanding photography, the overall effect is remarkable!”-- Anton Schneider, Academy for Educational Development, Washington, D.C.

“I was very impressed by the depth of Andrew Petkun’s work and genuine, compassionate commitment.” -- Dominique Mathiot, Country Program Adviser, UNAIDS, Asmara, Eritrea

“The photographs are powerful and eloquent -- you should be extremely proud of the impact thet will have by showing the human side of a critical international issue.” -- Michael Marek, United Nations Development Program

“Your pictures confirmed our thinking that there is a way to portray tragedy with sensitivity and concern without overwhelming an audience.” -- Chandley McDonald, Office of International Information, U. S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.

“I wanted to thank you again for your wonderful work here and elsewhere. It is really a precious gift that you give to record and explain with deep compassion the human impact of AIDS, the great dignity that human beings are capable of under such tragic circumstances, and how much we will lose if we don't do whatever each of us can do to stop this disease now.” -- Linda Lou Kelley, Health Team Leader, USAID, Eritrea

“Mr. Petkun spoke at the First Annual Harvard Medical School and Center for AIDS Research Symposium. His photographs are deeply moving and give the viewer intimate access to many stark, personal tragedies of this epidemic.” -- James L. Parmentier, PhD, Director, Administrative Core,
Partners/Fenway/Shattuck Center for AIDS Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston

“Your presentation to the school was one of the highlights of our year. The boys could talk about nothing else for several days. Your ability to communicate with them was extraordinary. You were so powerful in your understanding of the AIDS victims that the students couldn’t help but be drawn into your spell. How you were able to bring that catastrophe into human proportion. You were natural, spoke their language, and created an aura of concern that captured everyone’s interest. It was, in short, a bravura performance that touched us all.” -- Jim Bower, Headmaster, The San Miguel School, Providence, Rhode Island

“Your pictures cut through the mind-boggling statistics, the thousands of miles and the cultural and socioeconomic differences to connect us in a profound way with people like ourselves doing the best they can with a tragedy of enormous proportions. The faces in your images will stay with every researcher in the room, exhorting us to work all the harder to bring AIDS to an end.” -- Joseph Sodroski, M. D., Professor, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, Boston

“The Grand Rounds was very well received. Many residents told me we should have more like it, instead of straight science. I think the message really got through, as many in the audience were truly moved.”
-- Mohan Nadkarni, M. D., University of Virginia Medical School and Hospital

“Andrew Petkun is very articulate in a way that can be grasped by people who may not be very sophisticated....What Andrew really does well is help people become able to talk about the issues.” -- Bill Peters, Director of Global Issues, U.S Department of State, Washington, D.C.

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