About Catherine

Who is Dr Catherine Hamlin AC?

Dr Catherine Hamlin was a pioneering Australian surgeon whose work for women with obstetric fistula in Ethiopia continued uninterrupted for more than half a century. No other woman, or man, has done as much to eradicate this preventable, debilitating condition and give these women back their lives.

Catherine was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and received numerous international awards and acknowledgements for her dedication and pioneering work.

This place will go on for many, many years until we have eradicated fistula altogether – until every woman in Ethiopia is assured of a safe delivery and a live baby.

– Dr Catherine Hamlin

Continuing Catherine’s Journey to Eradicate Fistula

Under Dr Catherine Hamlin’s pioneering guidance, over 60,000 Ethiopian women have had their lives transformed under the Hamlin Model of Care. We are very proud of our achievements to date, but our task is nowhere near complete. Our goal is to increase total life-changing surgeries at Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia to 100,000. 

The team at Hamlin continues to carry Catherine’s torch and vision – will you support this work and help continue Catherine’s journey?

Catherine Hamlin’s Journey Continues

Catherine Hamlin’s Journey Continues

What is the Hamlin Model of Care?

Catherine pioneered what has been recognised as the world’s best-practice preoperative and postoperative fistula treatment. The Hamlin Model of Care combines clinical excellence with Catherine’s vision of treating every woman with compassion and dignity. 

When a woman arrives at a Hamlin fistula hospital, she is embraced with loving care. She is given nutritious food, a handmade blanket and clean clothing. A customised program is developed for her that includes surgical repair, rehabilitation, counselling and reintegration

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Etagegn’s Story

 “Here, everything is different. The nurses and doctors treat me with love, I am served with delicious, nutritious meals. I do physical exercise at the physiotherapy centre, learn how to make crafts – and surprisingly all of these services are totally free,” says Etagegn.

Etagegn’s story is one of heartbreaking lows and hopeful highs: from the agony of obstetric fistula to the optimism of a life restored after being lovingly cared for at Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.

Transforming Ethiopia’s Maternal Healthcare

Reg and Catherine Hamlin travelled to Ethiopia for the first time over 63 years ago, and initially only planned to stay for three years. On the evening of their arrival in Ethiopia, a fellow gynaecologist told them, “The fistula patients will break your hearts.” And they did.

The Hamlins had never seen an obstetric fistula case before and there was little or no treatment available in Ethiopia.

These two surgical pioneers refused to turn their backs on the women of Ethiopia. They remained in Ethiopia to treat women who had suffered an obstetric fistula – a horrific internal injury caused by an unrelieved obstructed labour during childbirth. Obstetric fistula leaves a woman incontinent, humiliated and grieving the loss of her child. 

Catherine and Reg went about dramatically transforming the maternal healthcare landscape for the women of Ethiopia.

Today, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia remains the reference organisation and leader in the fight to eradicate obstetric fistula around the world, blazing a trail for holistic treatment and care that empowers women to reassert their humanity, secure their health and wellbeing, and regain their roles in their families and communities.

A Lifetime of Caring

Catherine and Reg Hamlin on their wedding day

Catherine and Reg marry

Drs Reg and Catherine Hamlin met and married while they were both medical officers at Crown Street Women’s Hospital in Sydney, Australia.

Catherine and Reg Hamlin

An Ethiopian adventure

Their adventurous spirit inspired them to accept a three-year contract with the Ethiopian Government to work as obstetrician-gynaecologists and set up a midwifery school in Addis Ababa.

On the evening of their arrival in Ethiopia, a fellow gynaecologist told them, “The fistula patients will break your hearts.” The Hamlins had never seen an obstetric fistula case before and there was little or no treatment available in Ethiopia.

Catherine and Reg Hamlin with Patients

The early years

Initially working from the Princess Tsehai Memorial Hospital in Addis Ababa, Catherine and Reg refined the surgical technique to close obstetric fistula injuries, while continuing to treat a broad range of obstetric cases. Within the first three years, Catherine and Reg had operated on 300 fistula patients. As news of a cure spread, many more patients came seeking treatment.

Addis Adaba Fistula Hospital

The world’s first modern-day fistula hospital

To cater for the demand, Catherine and Reg began fundraising and officially opened the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in 1974.

Hamlin Rehabilitation for long-term-patients

Rehabilitation for long-term patients

Opened in 2002, Hamlin’s Rehabilitation and Reintegration Centre, Desta Mender (‘Joy Village’ in Amharic), was built on land about ten kilometres from the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. The village accommodates patients with more severe injuries who require longer-term care. 

The emphasis is now on reintegration. At Desta Mender, women receive education in literacy, numeracy and vocational training. With the help of start-up grants facilitated by Hamlin, many women have gone on to establish their own business. After the darkness of fistula, women can return to their community with hope and independence.

A group of Hamlin Fistula Patients

Hamlin’s regional fistula hospitals

Due to a lack of transportation infrastructure and difficult geography, many patients cannot access the capital city for treatment at Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. For some patients, even the cost of a bus fare to Addis is just not possible for their family.

For this reason, in 2003, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia began an ambitious plan to build five regional Hamlin fistula hospitals. 

There are now hospitals in Mekele and Bahir Dar in the north, Yirgalem in the south, Harar in the east and Metu in the southwest. 

These hospitals ensure many more women are able to access quality maternal healthcare.

Graduates from the Hamlin College of Midwives

The Hamlin College of Midwives

Catherine was determined not only to treat, but prevent childbirth injuries, so she established the Hamlin College of Midwives in 2007. 

The College recruits students from rural areas, putting them through a rigorous four-year BSc in Midwifery, then deploying them back to remote communities where their skills are desperately needed. 

Since 2007, 195 midwives have graduated from the Hamlin College of Midwives. Another 95 are currently studying. 

There are currently over 50 rural Hamlin-supported midwifery clinics staffed by Hamlin Midwives. Midwives prevent hundreds of maternal and neonatal deaths and are saving many mothers from suffering devastating childbirth injuries.

Dr Catherine Hamlin with staff and patients

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia today

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is a healthcare network of over 550 Ethiopian staff servicing six hospitals, Desta Mender Rehabilitation and Reintegration Centre, the Hamlin College of Midwives and over 50 Hamlin-supported midwifery clinics. 

Today, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia remains the reference organisation and leader in the fight to eradicate obstetric fistula around the world, blazing a trail for holistic treatment and care that empowers women to reassert their humanity, secure their health and wellbeing, and regain their roles in their families and communities.

Under Dr Catherine Hamlin’s pioneering guidance, over 60,000 Ethiopian women with fistula injuries have had their lives transformed under the Hamlin Model of Care. 

The team at Hamlin continue to carry Catherine’s torch and vision, and are working to increase the number of women’s lives transformed from 60,000 to 100,000.

Read our blog posts about Dr Catherine Hamlin.

Give to Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation.

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