International Day to End Obstetric Fistula 2024

The International Day to End Obstetric Fistula (IDEOF) is marked annually on 23 May. It is a day to draw attention to the devastating injury caused during an obstructed labour; an injury which continues to impact the lives of tens of thousands of women in Ethiopia.

On this day, and every day, Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation is working towards a fistula-free world, where:

  • women are free of incontinence caused by fistula injuries, and the isolation this brings;
  • women can be confident of delivering their babies safely;
  • women do not have to suffer agonising, obstructed labour; and
  • all women, regardless of whether they live, can access maternal health care.

Women like Hawwa, who spent years of her life hiding in shame and agony after losing her baby and suffering an obstetric fistula during her first pregnancy.

Through our Project Zero initiative, Patient Identification Officers found Hawwa and transported her to a Hamlin hospital for treatment.

She told us, “The care I got was beyond imagination. Now I am dry. I will go home and start my life again.”

Watch her story below.

5 Facts about Obstetric Fistula

Fact 1: Half of all women in Ethiopia give birth at home without medical care.

A home birth, without a healthcare professional in attendance, increases a woman’s chances of developing an obstetric fistula. This can leave women incontinent, isolated from their communities and even paralysed. Tragically, 90% of women who suffer an obstetric fistula will give birth to a stillborn baby.

Fact 2: An estimated 31,000 women in Ethiopia are living with a fistula injury.

Our Project Zero initiative is focused on finding the estimated 31,000 women in Ethiopia who remain physically and emotionally isolated by fistula injuries. Using a Woreda-by-Woreda (district) approach, Hamlin-trained Patient Identification Officers go door-to-door in search of women who remain unaware that a simple two-hour operation could provide a cure.

Fact 3: Obstetric fistula is not just a maternal health issue, but a human rights issue. 

By treating fistula through a holistic, whole-patient approach, we not only treat the injury, but can also address other inequities that women experience, including isolation, poverty, and illiteracy. Hamlin’s Rehabilitation and Reintegration Program at Desta Mender offers counselling, literacy, and numeracy classes, as well as vocational and life skills training. By empowering healed women, they in turn can empower their communities and live a life of dignity, agency, and good health.

Fact 4: Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia has performed life-changing surgery to over 70,000 women.

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, which operates a healthcare network of six hospitals, has performed life-changing surgery to more 70,000 women with obstetric fistula since its inception. Surgery is also available for a range of other gynaecological conditions, including advanced-stage pelvic organ prolapse. All patients are treated free of charge at Hamlin hospitals.

Fact 5: Midwives are essential to eradicating fistula in Ethiopia. Forever.

Midwives working in Ethiopia’s rural areas play a vital role in reducing birth injuries. By identifying pregnancy complications, they can prevent obstetric fistula from occurring in the first place. In 2007, Catherine established the Hamlin College of Midwives to increase access to quality healthcare. With a curriculum that meets the standards of the International Confederation of Midwives, graduates return to their local areas to work in Hamlin-supported midwifery clinics.

How you can help

Donate: Your financial support is powerful. Give a one-off or monthly donation to Hamlin to empower women and help build a fistula-free future.

Fundraise: Get your friends and family together and help make a difference to women in Ethiopia. You can get active, get crafty or get social for a good cause. Learn more about how you can get Hands on For Hamlin.

Spread the word: Share this story on social media and encourage others to learn more. Keep up to date with the latest news in the fight to eradicate fistula by following Hamlin on social media or signing up for our newsletter.

Buy a Gift that Gives Back: purchase an ethical, handmade gift from the Hamlin Shop and you will support local craftspeople and women in Ethiopia who are recovering from preventable childbirth injuries.

Knit for Hamlin: whether it’s squares or a whole blanket, use your knitting skills to give women recovering from surgery their own blanket, a symbol of her life being woven back together.

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