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World Aids Day 2023: "Full-of-life" photos from a pioneering project

01 Dec 23 | 04 Dec 23

World Aids Day 2023: "Full-of-life" photos from a pioneering project

Portrait photos taken at the pioneering MSF HIV/AIDS project in Conakry Caption
Portrait photos taken at the pioneering MSF HIV/AIDS project in Conakry

In 2003, when Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) first started free testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS in Guinea, care for the condition barely existed in the country.

For too many people, being diagnosed as HIV positive meant facing fear, discrimination and, sadly, AIDS-related disease and death. Access to life-saving antiretroviral (ARV) medication was expensive and often out of reach.

Twenty years later, while many still face challenges, the situation has dramatically improved. This is thanks in part to the work of the MSF team at the pioneering project in the capital, Conakry.

Here, MSF is still a key organisation treating 20 percent of all HIV patients across Guinea. Our team is driving change, supporting patients and filling the gaps in a life-saving service.

To mark World AIDS Day and 20 years of the incredible Conakry project, photographer Namsa Leuba visited the team to not only document their work but to celebrate it:

"In Europe, the collective memory of Africa is often biased. For example, I was at my dentist’s just before going on the project. We were chatting and I was telling her what I was going to do. 

"Her reaction was, 'Oh dear, it's going to be hard for you, it's terrible, all those unfortunate little children...'. 

"She imagined famine, poverty and hardship. But having lived in South Africa for a long time, I know that HIV can affect your neighbour, your best friend, your banker, anyone; and that it has become a condition with which we live well. 

"That’s what I wanted to show in these fresh, colourful, full-of-life images.

"I didn’t choose my models, they were volunteers, staff or partners of MSF. Over the four days of shooting, we got to know and trust each other. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, and there were always a few people who stayed to watch the photo sessions. 

"In Guinea, when we take formal photos, it’s usually for a wedding or a celebration. We smile in these photos! And my models would say to me, “Why don’t I smile?” 

"I asked them to move, dance, laugh... and that led me to ask some questions, too. A lot of these people have suffered from stigma, they have fought against it. If everyone laughed, it would discredit that reality.

"I hope that [these photos] will allow a distant audience to feel what I felt: the strength and energy of these people."


According to the World Health Organisation, there were an estimated 39 million people living with HIV at the end of 2022.

In 2022, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) cared directly for 31,500 people on first-line HIV antiretroviral treatment.