Kieran Creagh was ordained a priest in 1993. He had already spent a year
in Botswana during his training with the Passionists and now after a short
period working in Ireland and Scotland
was a great vibrancy in the township, a great spirit. After I had been
there for six months. I agreed to stay. It was violent. I remember having
to do two, three, four funerals a day. One who had been shot by police
and-one who had been shot in a hijacking. Aids was also a big problem.
It amazed me, there was all this talk about Sars yet there were five million
people with HIV/Aids. Their lifestyle is different with the poverty trap
they are living in. It was a shame in the culture if a woman didn't have
a child. I wouldn't be against condoms. If you can't abstain, then protect
yourself and protect the person you are with. Sex is in your face. But
I try in my own way to get the message across.
Creagh said the fact that hospitals and family members are not allowed
by law to reveal that certain people have Aids is also a problem.
a direct response, Fr Creagh sourced the materials and cash to build a
hospice for Aids/HIV sufferers in the township of Atteridgeville, Leratong
Hospice - which means Where There Is Love - was officially opened in June
this year. The north Belfast priest resides permanently at the hospice
in a small house at its rear. "I was delighted when we opened the
hospice," he said. "My friend did the plans for free. It has
18 beds but we can go up to 24. It cost £400,000 which seemed impossible
but we got it. We have seven professional nurses and two part-time doctors.""
Fr Creagh admits he has a lot to thank his family for as they were among
the main fundraisers for the hospice.
Last November, Fr Creagh took his campaign to fight the scourge of HIV/Aids one step further when he became the first person in the world to be injected with a trial vaccine against Aids, a chapter in his life which he admits was a "big moment". The Belfast Passionist was one of 24 people to receive the injection in Baragwanath Hospital in Sowetho. "I was trying to get my friend who is a doctor to work at the hospice and he was trying to get me to take the vaccine," he said. "I thought it was important to highlight that we need other people for the trials. The night before I got it I was really nervous. "It was a big moment. A doctor and nurse stayed with me for one hour and then I had to face the media. It will be a year next month since the vaccination and that's me. They need more people though, about 200 for the next trials. It's working towards a preventative thing, it would be something you give to babies like MMR. It's not a cure."
Creagh said he believed the South African government could be more proactive
in its fight against Aids/HIV. "I don't see them (the government)
challenging young people to change their behaviour. I don't see it or
sense it," he said.
Fr Creagh, who will return to South Africa on Friday, said he planned to help the children of Aids victims as part of his future work, after the Leratong Hospice was up and running. "I will see what God has in store for me next."
Donations can be made to the Leratong Hospice by contacting Friends of Leratong on 028 9071 7635 or at the Bank of Ireland, High Street, Belfast through Sort Code 90-21-27 and account number 12779453.