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Remembering Eve van Grafhorst

By Brian Haill - posted Tuesday, 2 December 2008

While the richer nations shudder their way through the “global financial crisis”, pondering the billions of lost dollars, those of us seeking to help the desperately poor with HIV-AIDs in lands short of water, with toilets that are just crude holes in the ground, are anxiously wondering where it'll leave us, considering the state of the incredibly shrinking Aussie dollar!

That's the wallop, the punchline, as we marked World AIDs Day yesterday.

It's now about a quarter of a century ago since I became enmeshed in the world of HIV-AIDs, subsequently establishing my own AIDs-care charity, The Australian AIDs Fund Inc, and finding myself:

  • labelled an “activist” for confronting the Catholic church, my church, over its attitude to condoms;
  • meeting a teenager with HIV in the then notorious Pentridge Prison, where prisoners with HIV had died in a protest fire, who later committed suicide;
  • helping to house frightened people with HIV in Melbourne;
  • reaching out to a houseful of blood donors in Mexico City, infected while selling their blood;
  • then into Africa, Papua New Guinea ... and many other parts of the world; and
  • this very week, seeing a return to the beginning, where it all began for me as a news journalist (I was then the ABC's Melbourne TV chief of staff), with an email appeal from New Zealand, and the label of activist being applied to me again.

The email came days ago from TVNZ, asking me if I could help find the mother of Eve van Grafhorst so that it could do a feature interview with her to mark World AIDs Day 2008. And yes, I did.

Eve was the first Australian schoolgirl to be infected by HIV through a blood transfusion. It was the last of 11 transfusions she'd needed to save her life as a “prem” baby, and it was the one polluted by HIV that finally killed her when she was just 11-years-old, in 1993.

Eve's life and that of her family, have been rightly described as one of the darkest pages in Australia's HIV history, chased right out of Australia as they were by a hysterical and terrified Gosford (NSW) community that couldn't - and wouldn't - cope with HIV, into the arms of generous New Zealanders on the other side of the Tasman.

Eve was the inspiration for my establishment of The Australian AIDs Fund, a Catholic charity and now, arguably, the smallest agency of its type in Australia: initially wooed into membership of Catholic Social Services Victoria (I had been reluctant, given the church's baggage on homosexuality and that most men with HIV in Australia are gay men) and finally cut adrift by it, its small funding assistance finished, in 2002.

I was never asked for my side of the story leading to the church's abandonment, although I'm grateful that the Melbourne Catholic Education Office is continuing my annual School AIDs Day initiative, which had focused on Eve’s life as a grim reminder of what HIV-AIDs stigma and discrimination can do in our own land.


But I'm still mystified, and not a little hurt, about it subsequently dropping all reference to her at all. It's like celebrating Christmas, with the nativity scene dumped.

Most of my involvement was devoted to sheltering people struggling to live with AIDs in Australia, mainly through renting properties in Melbourne to accommodate them.

But 2002 was the year that turned everything on its head for me. Through a spiteful mix of politics and lack of financial and other support, our facilities were closed.

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If you'd like to help, you'd be very welcome. Tax deductible cheques made payable to the Australian AIDs Fund Inc., may be sent to PO Box 1347, Frankston, Victoria, 3199.

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About the Author

Brian Haill is a former ABC TV news chief of staff. He's the founder and current President of the Melbourne-based Catholic AIDS care charity - The Australian AIDS Fund Incorporated - which is cold-shouldered by the church because it rejects the church's anti-condom stance.

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