First photography exhibition of people living with HIV in Pakistan

A photography exhibition, which shines the spotlight on the resilience of people living with HIV opened in Islamabad, Pakistan on 7 September. It is the first time that an exhibit in Pakistan has been dedicated to portraying the inspirational stories of people living with HIV and the goal is to help reduce stigma and discrimination. A Photo Story on People Living with HIV in Pakistan was produced in collaboration with the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP), United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) and the UNAIDS Country Office.

The exhibit is a collection of 25 portraits of men and women living with HIV, who have felt so empowered that they have taken the bold decision to share their stories of HIV-related stigma with the public. Each photo is accompanied by a caption with a short interview where people express their challenges and concerns, but also their determination to bring about change and eliminate stigma and discrimination. Dozens of representatives from different sectors, including government, civil society, communities, embassies and international organizations attended the opening.

Stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV remain a widespread challenge in Pakistan. The country’s People Living with HIV Stigma Index, conducted in 2010, revealed high levels of stigma and exclusion from families and religious activities and discrimination in employment. One third of respondents reported being denied access to health care in the previous 12 months. In Pakistan, it has often been difficult to disseminate key HIV information due to cultural and social barriers. The aim of this exhibition is to give a human face to the epidemic, with photographs that will have a lasting impact and can be shared on multiple platforms.

“A picture is worth a thousand words. These powerful photographs underline that people living with HIV are like you and me,” said Steve Kraus, Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific, who inaugurated the exhibit. “We salute the courage and willingness of the men and women showcased in this exhibition to disclose their status in the hopes of transforming society. Let us embrace our brothers and sisters living with HIV. Only when we reach zero discrimination can we end the AIDS epidemic in Pakistan.”

In 2014, there were 94 000 people living with HIV and 20 000 new HIV infections. There were 2800 AIDS-related deaths. More than 5000 people were on HIV treatment. The NACP found that Pakistan’s epidemic is primarily concentrated among people who inject drugs (PWID) with a national prevalence of 27.2%.

Dr. Abdul Baseer Khan Achakzai, National Programme Manager, NACP said “The Government of Pakistan is committed to scaling up targeted interventions to prevent the rise in HIV prevalence among key and vulnerable population groups and to fostering an organized national response to halt new HIV infections, improve the health and quality of life of people with and affected by HIV and initiate community-based HIV testing to bridge the gap between registered and estimated HIV cases.”

Nazir Masih, the CEO of the New Lights AIDS Control Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing treatment, care and support for people living with HIV is one of the people portrayed in the exhibition. He said, “HIV is a problem of human beings and it is not an issue of any particular religion or nation. That is why hurdles and threats cannot deter me from the path of helping those in need and will not stop me, come what may, because this is what I have been made for.”

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