Tuesday is World AIDS Day, and a nurse who treated HIV patients in the Central African Republic wants the world to learn more about the virus and its patients -- through art.
In October 2014, 26-year-old Doctors Without Borders nurse Diana Johnson went to Zemio, a rural town in the Central African Republic, to train local medical personnel and help treat HIV patients. Nine months later, after having met more than a thousand patients, Johnson tells their stories through sketches.
"When I travel, I often draw what I see as a way of trying to process it," Johnson told The WorldPost on Monday. "I wanted to draw a few people that I really remembered and had connected to and a few experiences just so I could process it."
From a charismatic 4-year-old to a moody teenager to a delicate older woman, Johnson's portraits show that HIV doesn't shape a person. She thinks the best way to understand the virus is to remove the stigma associated with HIV patients.
"People should know now that HIV is just a chronic disease and we treat it. People deserve to be treated equally," Johnson said. "HIV deserves to be seen as just an illness that you treat, the way you would treat diabetes or high blood pressure."
Zemio is a rural town near the Central African Republic's eastern border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. With a population of 14,000 people, the town is also home to some 3,400 Congolese refugees, the U.N. Refugee Agency reported in March. Doctors Without Borders started working in Zemio in 2010 after an influx of Congolese refugees and internally displaced people from the Central African Republic entered the region following attacks from the Lord's Resistance Army militant group, led by Joseph Kony.
Nearly 12 percent of Zemio's population is HIV-positive, Doctors Without Borders says. But the region lacks qualified medical personnel to treat patients. Only two of the local personnel that Johnson trained had any previous medical training. There is only one nursing school in the Central African Republican capital of Bangui, Johnson noted, and the World Health Organization reported that there were only 250 doctors in the country of 5.4 million people.
Take a look at the sketches below, along with Johnson's memories of each patient, which were edited for clarity. All patients' names have been changed.
Jean de DieuDiana Johnson