Belfast Telegraph

Newly wed doctors vow to help AIDS patients in Zambia

by Chris McCann

Two recently married doctors are set to leave south Belfast to work with people suffering from HIV and AIDS in Africa.

Eileen and Ciaran Fairmichael, who tied the knot in May , are about to commit the next year of their lives to volunteering in rural Zambia.

Currently working in the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital, they are leaving for Africa in early October.

Ciaran, 29, and Eileen, 28 both studied medicine at Queen’s University.

Ciaran will be working as an ART support doctor in Lumezi Mission Hospital in the eastern part of Zambia. ART stands for Anti-Retroviral Therapy and refers to the drugs and counselling that people living with HIV and AIDS receive.

This particular hospital has suffered shortages of anti-malarials and ART drugs in recent months, meaning Ciaran will be working with limited resources, both human and medical.

Eileen will be placed as an ART support doctor in a community organisation called Thandizani.

Thandizani addresses the medical and social impacts of HIV and AIDS in the district. This organisation has a substantial network of community volunteers who offer their services to people in the area, visiting and caring for them weekly.

Speaking to the Community Telegraph this week, Eileen said the couple had mixed feelings ahead of the trip.

“We're both very excited and also nervous as we look forward to next year,” she said.

“We've been overwhelmed by how interested and generous colleagues and friends have been. It's a big challenge for us both, but we can't wait to get started.”

On the prospect of being faced with the horror of the scale of HIV and AIDS, Eileen added: “It’ll be really different as we won’t have the resources we would have here. There will be things we can’t help with, it will be difficult to see young people and children with HIV and AIDS.

“But, we both work in the Cancer Centre at the moment, so we’re used to making decisions and dealing with people facing death. We are well prepared.

“I think we will gain a sense of perspective and realise just how privileged and lucky we are. Professionally, the trip will benefit us too, working in such difficult conditions,” she said.

VSO – which the couple will work with, is an international development charity that works through volunteers to fight poverty in some of the world's poorest countries. Volunteers are experienced professionals who carry out one or two year placements in health, education and business.

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