The Netherlands has among its population of 17,020,000 about 23,000 adults living with HIV, and the enviable level of fewer than 500 new infections per year, down from more than twice that in 2009. Among adult people living with HIV (PLHIV), 80% are on Antiretroviral therapy (ART), a figure rising steadily by about 3% per year at least since 2010.
The overall number of infected children is tiny, and 95% get ART. The country’s program to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV is a success, averting virtually all infant cases.
The vast majority of HIV in the Netherlands is found among men who have sex with men (MSM), then migrants from high-prevalence countries, followed distantly by people who inject drugs (PWID). HIV infection is concentrated in the large cities.
Combating HIV/AIDS is a clearly stated aim of Dutch domestic and foreign policy, which it supports wholeheartedly. The levels of homophobia and stigma against people living with HIV (PLHIV) are low.
(Figures from UNAIDS, 2016)
30 years of hiv and aids
1982-2011, The Netherlands
“My young years prepared me for my HIV. People with untroubled youths have it a lot harder. I've become a professional in traumatic matters.”
“When the bereavement card arrived, I thought: another couple of years and then I'll end up like Ruud, in an envelope like this with a gray border.”
“I've bowed to the inevitable. I have a virus that my genes can pretty much handle.”
“I didn't come to the Netherlands in 1986 to live, but to die. But until the turn of the century I hardly saw a doctor. I never entered a hospital.”
“All those people who are no longer here wanted to go on living. Like me. That places on me a great responsibility to make the most of it.”
“It has to be a bit rough. For me it's not purely about the esthetics. Maybe I'm done with beauty. I'm looking for life in my photos.”
Peter en Michael
“People who realize that they're dying are good to live with. There's no more mess: all that’s left is what’s essential.”
“Photos are allright. But it's best if I'm not recognizable in the image.”
“On the way to the car, on the way to the first aid. Strange, I always thought that the love of your life was going to carry you over the threshold only into the house, not out of the house.”
“I don't want my children to learn from a photo in a book that their mother has AIDS.”
“Humor! Laughter! I haven't much longer to live, they say... They don't get it at all.”
“The shame and fear that make it impossible to say to the rest of the world: I'm seropositive, I'm infected with HIV.”
“It was a German boy. We were together for no more than a year. He was the love of my life.”
“At my afternoon get-together, everyone there caught HIV from the rain and is only taking vitamin C.”
“I still had ten T4 cells. I was put in a room. Alone. To die, because I was too sick for HIV medication. The outlook was catastrophic.”
“I often sat on the deck alone at night, looking at the stars and the sea. I found it beautiful. The moonlight, the waves.”
“Contrary to my great vulnerability in everyday situations, I'm very confident in my sex. And I love learning, it's that simple.”
“In Paramaribo the streets were full of Colombian and Venezuelan beauties. The kind of flowers that made your head explodes.”
“The hardest thing is to decide when I'll tell them. I don't want them to grow up with a secret.”
Ellen en Linda
Was I angry?
Yes, you were really angry.”
“And I still have to get an injection. How can that be right? I don't see the sense in an injection.”
“It was all in my head. Physically I was quite healthy. Even up to now I'm still doing without HIV medication.”
“The first test was good. At the second test, after two months, everything was still okay. But with the last test, after three months, I turned out to be infected.”
“Eventually I want some kind of retreat or farm in France. Together with a husband and some goats. Lots of goats.”
“The behavior of that director in particular knocked my socks off. Because I was so open about my HIV, he fired me.”
“So I made an appointment. Called Thursday for one on Friday. As soon as possible! It was bad! There was a different doctor, who tossed out the cruel words...”
Eddy en Jan
“I spent 4 years as an alderman with HIV. Without knowing. I worked 80 hours a week, but had no trouble at all. That's possible.”
“I'm 31 and live near Rotterdam. By profession I'm a gardener. My hobby is beekeeping. Life with an HIV infection is still new to me.”
Erwin Kokkelkoren followed and interviewed 30 people with HIV and AIDS, all living in the Netherlands.
Erik Smits portrayed the 30 men and women in their own domains.
Smits’s photography, together with quotations from Kokkelkoren’s stories, gives a unique picture of the human history of 30 years of HIV and AIDS in the Netherlands.
The dates with the portraits refer to the year when these people were confronted with their HIV or AIDS diagnoses.
Only 1982 is missing, the year of the first AIDS diagnosis… There are no survivors from this year.
In April 2012, all the stories and pictures appeared in the book “The Time There-After.”
Sadly, two men are no longer with us. Harrie (1992) and Nico (1999) have passed away since then.