Courageous Motherhood

Sasja van Vechgel
Tanzania / Netherlands
Photographer Sasja van Vechgel worked with the Foxes NGO in Mufindi, a rural district in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania, to capture these photographs of mothers, children, and families affected by HIV/AIDS in Tanzania, where the HIV/AIDS pandemic affects all sectors of the population, and mother-to-child transmission of the virus is extremely common. The mission of Foxes NGO is to provide shelter, sustenance, education, and medical care for orphans, vulnerable children, and people living with HIV-AIDS; to curtail the spread of HIV-AIDS; to teach life skills and to create opportunities for future generations.
From the corner of his room, Hussein looks at his wife, who just learned that not only does she have HIV but also Tuberculosis. Hussein also has AIDS and Tuberculosis. He refused to acknowledge both illnesses for a long time and therefore spread the virus to many women, including his own wife.


HIV/AIDS is the fastest growing epidemic in the modern world. Recent estimates put the number of people living with HIV/AIDS at more than 33.3 million. Almost 70% of those people are living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Healthcare and education for mothers is of utmost importance in fighting HIV/AIDS. Children are greatly affected by the endemic of HIV/AIDS. The UNAIDS 2010 report estimated that since the beginning of the epidemic, 14.8 million children have lost one or more parents due to the virus. Not only is the number of orphans increasing, but the number of children infected is also on the rise.  Today, in Sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 1000 babies a day are infected with HIV due to mother-to-child transmission at birth.

In Tanzania, the HIV pandemic affects all sectors of the population.  Recent reports state that up to 275 new infections of HIV/AIDS occur in Tanzania each day. Mother-to-child transmission is extremely high: Tanzania has a 30% prenatal transmission rate.

Many of these photos were taken in Mufindi, a rural district located in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania, East Africa. The needs in this district are great: nearly 40% of adults and children in Mufindi are living with HIV, and over 40% of children have lost at least one parent. Mufindi is also very rurally located, with people often traveling more than 50km on treacherous roads by bus or on foot to get necessary medical attention.

While Tanzania still struggles with HIV’s prevalence, the country recognizes that it must take action. The Tanzanian government issued an HIV Prevention Strategy Plan for the 2009-2013 years, which includes promotion of HIV education and increased medical access, including prevention of mother to child transmission (PMCT) services. The government reports that from the onset of the new millennium, women seeking PMCT services increased from virtually zero to 61% in 2008. The country expects these rates to improve with the continued implementation of the 2009-2013 HIV Prevention Strategy Plan.

About The Artist 

Sasja van Vechgel is a Dutch photographer who currently lives in the Central Highlands of Iringa, Tanzania. Sasja has worked as a freelance photographer over the past 10 years. She has produced and published a coffee table book about Dar es Salaam, “The Book of Dar”, publishes photo reportages and has won several commended awards. She mainly concentrates on documentary style humanistic photography work and on stills of everyday life where people play a main role. Learn more at her website,