Dr David John Knox, Director, Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation.
Catherine and Reg Hamlin have been part of my life for as long as I can remember as my mother was Catherine’s older sister. I was eight when they first left for Ethiopia to set up a midwifery school. I was very envious of my younger cousin Richard going off on a grand African adventure, but every three years they would come back and stay with us in Sydney full of tales of life in this exotic country. Catherine is also a prolific letter writer and her letters were eagerly anticipated.
Later at medical school, in 1973, there was an opportunity to do an elective term in Ethiopia. It was an eye-opening two months. I confess that I didn’t do much medical work – I was more interested in seeing this historic and fascinating country and its beautiful people. However, the experience did inspire me to do O&G specialist training and work in a rural area where obstetric care was not as well developed as in the city. I’m now retired after 35 years in O&G practice in Orange, NSW.
Since Ethiopia’s return to democracy in the 1990s, I’ve made many visits to watch and learn basic fistula operations. I’ve witnessed its expansion to include the five satellite hospitals, the midwifery school and Desta Mender. I’ve also been able to volunteer as an obstetrician in remote regions. Fistulas can be prevented by timely obstetric intervention, and this has to be the way of the future. It is heartbreaking to see women come in after three days of obstructed labour with a dead baby and a fistula, knowing that all this trauma could have been prevented.
Thankfully, maternal care in Ethiopia is improving due to a major effort by the government as well as Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia and other NGOs. There is still a way to go before Catherine’s dream of eradicating fistula can be fulfilled, but with your support (and Catherine’s zest for living!) we’re coming close.