For 61 one her 96 years, Dr Catherine Hamlin has cared for the most vulnerable women in Ethiopia. For obstetric fistula patients living is isolated areas, the importance of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia’s five regional hospitals cannot be understated. One of the thousands of rural patients who knows the value of Hamlin’s regional hospitals is Enat. This is her story:
Life before fistula
In northern Ethiopia the jagged rockface of the mountains cuts into the endless sky. Here, nestled in the mountains is the remote village that Enat calls home.
Growing up, going to school was never an option for Enat; instead she worked as a shepherd to support her family’s income. When she was 17, Enat was married off to a farmer and fell pregnant two years later.
The isolation of fistula
Her joy was short-lived: Enat suffered a complicated obstructed labour. Without a doctor or midwife present, and with the closest health services in a village one hour away, Enat’s condition deteriorated. Over 70% of births in rural Ethiopia occur without a medical attendant present.
Enat eventually travelled to the closest hospital where, after two more agonising days of labour, she gave birth to a stillborn baby. She was devastated and grieving the loss of her child. Furthermore, she was left with internal injuries and urinary incontinence.
“At least I have survived after a life-threatening labour; but I lost my first baby and faced such a traumatic injury. It was hard for the entire family,” says Enat.
Enat and her family thought the incontinence that she suffered was a short-term consequence of her difficult labour and would stop as she recovered from her labour. It didn’t. Enat suffered incontinence for almost five years as a result of her fistula.
Her injury was far more than physical, she felt ashamed and alone. Enat remembers: “those five years with the problem were full of agony; I got divorced and feared socialising with others. I spent all day, everyday, lonely and in isolation. The whole family felt a deep sadness.”
In 2018, Enat learned about Catherine and the services provided at Hamnlin’s Bahir Dar Fistula Hospital. The hospital at Bahir Dar is one of five regional outreach hospitals supported by Catherine and her team. Since 1959, Catherine and Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia have established six hospitals and over 50 Hamlin-supported midwifery clinics. Abandoned by her husband, and with a family too poor to help her for transportation costs, it took many months for Enat to collect enough money for the bus fare to the hospital.
At the hospital, she received holistic treatment by the Hamlin team and was finally able to have her fistula treated after five years of suffering. Thankfully, her initial surgery was a success. Her treatment was free, thanks to generous Hamlin supporters around the world.
Enat is now dry; her health and dignity has been restored. For Enat, her recovery means more than just being able to socialise with others, it has a profound impact on the way she views herself and life: “Hamlin have made the impossible possible and allow me to live life to the full. Thank you for your generosity.”
Hamlin’s Bahir Dar Fistula Hospital in the Amhara Region, 540 km north-west of Addis Ababa, is one of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia’s five regional hospitals. The hospital services an area which is home to over 20 million people, with very few health facilities – that’s why it is so important to have vital medical equipment in regional hospitals upgraded and fully stocked.
Your generosity can help treat more women just like Enat. Please consider donating today, to help us continue Catherine’s remarkable work.