May 23- International Day to End Obstetric Fistula

May 23, 2019


Today on International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation reflects on the progress made over the past 60 years at Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, and looks forward to the day when fistula is eradicated. Forever.

What is Obstetric Fistula?

Obstetric fistula is a hole between a woman’s birth canal and urinary tract, sometimes also the rectum. It is a complex internal injury which comes as a result of a prolonged, unrelieved obstructed labour. In 93% cases, the baby is stillborn. On top of this heartbreak, the mother is left with uncontrollable incontinence of urine and sometimes faeces as well.

As well as the devastating impact on the woman’s health, fistula also brings shame in her cultural and social settings, leading to segregation and isolation. Women with fistula are often ostracised from their communities, separated from their families and forced to live alone.

60 years – 60,000 women

When Drs Catherine and Reg Hamlin arrived in Ethiopia in 1959, they were overwhelmed by the endemic of obstetric fistula. When their initial posting of three years was over, they knew they could not turn their backs on the fistula sufferers and decided to remain in Ethiopia. In 1974, they founded the world’s first modern fistula treatment facility, the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.

“We were touched and appalled by the sadness of our first fistula patient: a beautiful young woman in urine-soaked ragged clothes, sitting alone in our outpatients department away from the other waiting patients.” – Dr Catherine Hamlin

Since her arrival in Ethiopia 60 years ago, Dr Catherine Hamlin and her team have treated over 60,000 women suffering with the horrific injury. Catherine has made it her life mission to eradicate fistula forever.

Treatment, Prevention, Rehabilitation & Reintegration

As well as providing best practice fistula treatment in their hospitals across Ethiopia, the team at Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia also takes a preventative approach to eradicating fistula. In 2007, the Hamlin College of Midwives opened, and has since graduated 145 midwives to provide professional medical care to women in rural areas of Ethiopia. This has prevented countless new fistula cases from occurring. There are currently another 92 students completing their midwifery degrees.

Catherine has always believed that treating a fistula patient isn’t just treating a hole in the bladder, but rather the whole patient. Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia understands that fistula leaves both physical and emotional scars, and therefore provides rehabilitation and reintegration programs to help fistula sufferers reintegrate into their communities, or start independent lives of their own. This includes counselling and skills training programs tailored for every woman.

Due to this comprehensive approach to eradicating fistula, the work of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia aligns closely with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These goals envision a better world for the future and cover many areas from education to climate action. Click here to read how Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is meeting some of these goals.


Eradicating Fistula. Forever.

Last year, the United Nations Member States released the 2018 United Nations Resolution on Ending Fistula, in which they committed to eradicating fistula within a decade. This requires accelerated efforts in improving maternal health, and increased investment in providing adequate medical care to every woman, everywhere.

As stated this week by UNFPA Executive Director, Dr Natalia Kanem, fistula is a human rights violation, and we must end it now.

Today on International Day of End Obstetric Fistula, we stand together and fight for a world where fistula does not exist. Giving birth should not be a death sentence, for mother or child.

You can help achieve Catherine’s dream of eradicating fistula in Ethiopia by 2030. Donate here today.