Why your support is so important for a fistula-free Ethiopia

Dr Catherine Hamlin was an Australian obstetrician-gynaecologist who dedicated over 60 years to helping women with horrific childbirth injuries. Catherine and her team have restored the lives of more than 60,000 women. But to achieve Catherine’s vision for a fistula-free Ethiopia, we need to find every last woman suffering in silence.

With 80% of the country’s population living outside of cities, thousands of women like Ayana (pictured below) have limited or no access to medical care. And when they suffer devastating obstetric fistula injuries many don’t know that help is out there. Ayana suffered in silence for sixty years.

Hamlin’s Patient Identification Program has identified districts across Ethiopia where women are likely living with untreated fistula injuries – remote areas where access to the health care is limited and roads are restricted or non-existent.

Hundreds of Hamlin-trained local health workers and Hamlin staff will travel to these areas to find vulnerable women who don’t know help is available. Some officers will drive for hours, while others will walk to remote villages without road access. They will go door-to-door, person to person, tirelessly searching for women living with existing fistula injuries around Ethiopia. The first phase of the program in early 2020 uncovered 24 women, like Ayana, living in the darkness, isolation and hopelessness of fistula and were brought to Hamlin for treatment.

Help us realise Catherine’s vision and bring hope to thousands more women by making a donation today

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This place will go on for 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

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Ayana’s story: six decades of suffering

Ayana suffered with a fistula for 60 gruelling years. She was located in early 2020 through Hamlin’s Patient Identification Program and taken to Hamlin’s Yirgalem Fistula Hospital, malnourished and weighing just 32kgs. Ayana underwent life-changing fistula repair surgery. While the operation treated her fistula injury, the Hamlin Model of Care supported her to thrive post-surgery.

Hamlin’s Patient Identification Program aims to find the estimated 31,000 women, like Ayana, who are suffering with fistula injuries in the most remote areas of Ethiopia.

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What is an obstetric fistula?

A hole between the birth canal and bladder and/or rectum, caused by a long, unrelieved obstructed labour where a woman has no access to emergency obstetric care.

Women who survive a long obstructed labour will suffer debilitating internal injuries that leave them incontinent of urine and/or faeces, permanently. In 93% of cases, their baby will die. Ashamed and alone, women are often isolated by their communities with no hope for their future.

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How is it treated?

While Ayana’s injuries were treatable with a single surgery (costing just $700), many other women suffer complex fistulas that require more complex treatment; brave young women like Semenesh whose story is below. The cost of treating more complex injuries through surgery is $1,750. Thanks to Hamlin’s advanced surgical techniques and holistic care, all patients leave with a surgical solution to prevent heavy incontinence.

Today, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is globally renowned for its treatment technique. Doctors and nurses from around the world travel to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital to learn best practice for fistula surgeries and the Hamlin Model of Care.


How many women still live with a fistula in Ethiopia?

In a country the size of Ethiopia, with a population of over 100 million people living in mostly rural regions, it’s hard to determine the exact number of women still living with a fistula. It is estimated that there are 31,000 women still untreated. What we do know, is that there has been a significant decline in the number of new cases presenting to Hamlin hospitals – a clear sign of the impact Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia has made.

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We believe in a world where all women are able to deliver their babies safely and where childbirth injuries are a thing of the past.