Beyond Sixty Years

“We have to eradicate Ethiopia of this awful thing that’s happening to women: suffering, untold suffering, in the countryside. I leave this with you to do in the future, to carry on.”  – Dr Catherine Hamlin

On Wednesday March 18, 2020, the world lost one of its great humanitarians, Dr Catherine Hamlin. A living, breathing saint. For over 60 years, Catherine cared for the most vulnerable women in the world. As we look to the future, the responsibility to take up Catherine’s mantle and eradicate obstetric fistula falls on all of us.

Catherine’s legacy

Catherine’s immense legacy cannot be done justice in 60 stories. Her legacy can be seen in the stories of over 60,000 women who have been treated at Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia‘s six hospitals. Her purpose, to eradicate fistula and ensure that every woman could have a safe and successful delivery, is borne out in the students and graduates of the Hamlin College of Midwives who are working in over 50 Hamlin-supported midwifery clinics in rural Ethiopia. Her values of compassion and dignity for all are at the core of the Hamlin Model of Care and Desta Mender, Hamlin’s Rehabilitation and Reintegration Centre. Her medical expertise and pioneering surgical work live on in the Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia’s training programs and its over 550 Ethiopian staff.

The task ahead

Thanks to the work of Drs Reg and Catherine Hamlin, enormous progress has been made in Ethiopia; however, it is still estimated the backlog of women who require treatment for an obstetric fistula injury in Ethiopia is between 15,000 and 39,000. It is tragic and sad that even today, women suffer with an obstetric fistula, often for years. Many don’t know there is a treatment, many suffer unnecessarily, sometimes for a lifetime. In Ethiopia some 70% of births are not attended by any medical practitioner or midwife.

Thus, the task ahead is not only to continue to treat the backlog of up to 39,000 women suffering from fistula, it is to continue to educate high-calibre midwives who work in isolated and rural communities to prevent women from suffering a fistula in the first place.

Reaching a fistula-free future

As Catherine planned, Hamlin’s hospitals, midwifery clinics, rehabilitation and reintegration centre and the Hamlin College of Midwives will continue their excellent work. Ethiopian professionals – many trained by Catherine – have for some time been appointed to all major roles at Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia to ensure continuity well into the future. Catherine believed that her dream of a fistula-free Ethiopia is possible.

The key to treating fistula patients is highly-trained fistula surgeons, as well as best-practice allied health professionals who are able to care for the pre- and post-operative needs of patients.nIn most cases it takes a simple, two-hour operation to correct an obstetric fistula. Given that some women have lived with the condition for more than a decade, the transformation this single operation makes is breathtaking. The operation can cost as little as $700.  All patients at Hamlin hospitals are treated free of charge, as most are too poor to pay.

Globally, Hamlin is pivotal to the training of fistula surgeons through its partnership with the FIGO Fistula Surgery Training Initiative; Hamlin has trained more than half of the program’s surgeons, as wells as six nurses. After training at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital – considered a global centre of excellence in fistula surgery – these healthcare professionals return to their home nations to help women in Madagascar, Ghana, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Midwifery I believe is the answer – to put a well trained midwife in every village would soon eradicate obstetric fistula,” Catherine remarked in her acceptance speech of the Right Livelihood Award. The Hamlin College of Midwives recruits high-achieving, regional students to study a Bachelor of Science (Midwifery) on a full scholarship. It costs $4,500 AUD to provide a one year scholarship for a midwifery student.

Catherine’s dream of eradicating fistula in Ethiopia will only be possible if all of us continue caring and advocating for the most vulnerable of women. Click here to help finish what Catherine started.

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