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Catherine and Reg Hamlin on their wedding day

Catherine and Reg get married

Drs Reg and Catherine Hamlin met and married when they were both medical officers at Crown Street Women’s Hospital in Sydney Australia.

Catherine and Reg Hamlin

An Ethiopian adventure

Their adventurous spirit inspired them to accept a three-year contract with the Ethiopian Government to work as obstetrician-gynaecologists and set up a midwifery school in Addis Ababa.

On the evening of their arrival in Ethiopia, a fellow gynaecologist told them, “The fistula patients will break your hearts.” The Hamlins had never seen an obstetric fistula case before and there was little or no treatment available in Ethiopia.

Catherine and Reg Hamlin with Patients

The early years

Initially working from the Princess Tsehai Memorial Hospital in Addis Ababa, Catherine and Reg refined the surgical technique to close obstetric fistula injuries, while continuing to treat a broad range of obstetric cases. Within the first three years, Reg and Catherine had operated on 300 fistula patients. As news of a cure spread, many more patients came seeking treatment.

Addis Adaba Fistula Hospital

The World’s first modern-day fistula hospital

To cater for the demand Catherine and Reg began fundraising and officially opened the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in 1974.

Hamlin Rehabilitation for long-term-patients

Rehabilitation for long-term patients

Opened in 2002, Desta Mender (Joy Village in Amharic) was built on land donated by the Ethiopian Government about 10 kilometres from the hospital. The village’s 10 houses accommodate patients with long-term injuries which prevent them from returning home.

The emphasis is now on reintegration, enabling the women to develop skills useful in the community so that they can leave Desta Mender and find permanent work. There is a large market garden where vegetables are grown. These supply the whole of Desta Mender and the surplus is used in the main fistula hospital in Addis Ababa.

The Juniper Cafe by the lake opened in 2009. Initially to teach patients hospitality, they are now running the cafeteria by themselves. Some have been able to leave Desta Mender and set up their own cafe not far away.

A group of Hamlin Fistula Patients

Hamlin Fistula Regional Hospitals

Due to a lack of transportation infrastructure and difficult geography, many patients cannot access the capital for treatment at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. For some patients even the cost of a bus fare to Addis is just not possible for their family.

For this reason, in 2003, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia began an ambitious plan to build five regional Hamlin Fistula Hospitals.

There are now hospitals in Mekele and Bahir Dar in the north, Yirgalem in the south, Harar in the east and Metu in the southwest.

These hospitals ensure many more women are able to access quality maternal healthcare. Obstetric fistula injuries are being both treated and prevented.

Graduates from the Hamlin College of Midwives

A College of Midwives

Catherine was determined not only to treat, but prevent these childbirth injuries, so she established the Hamlin College of Midwives in 2007. The College has an active program of recruiting the brightest students from rural areas, putting them through rigorous training as midwives, and then deploying them back to their villages where their skills are needed.

This is a cornerstone of the Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia program – ensuring that women in Ethiopia have access to qualified midwives so they no longer suffer for days on end with an obstructed labour.

Since 2007, 170 midwives have graduated from the Hamlin College of Midwives. Another 92 are currently studying.

There are currently over 50 rural Hamlin-supported Midwifery Clinics staffed by Hamlin midwives. Midwives in these centres are preventing hundreds of maternal and neonatal deaths and are saving many mothers from suffering devastating childbirth injuries.

Dr Catherine Hamlin with staff and patients

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia today

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is a healthcare network of over 550 Ethiopian staff servicing six hospitals, Desta Mender rehabilitation centre, the Hamlin College of Midwives and more than 50 Hamlin-supported Midwifery Clinics.

Today, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia remains the reference organisation and leader in the fight to eradicate obstetric fistula around the world, blazing a trail for holistic treatment and care that empowers women to reassert their humanity, secure their health and well-being, and regain their roles in their families and communities.

Under Dr Catherine Hamlin’s pioneering guidance, over 60,000 Ethiopian women with fistula injuries have had their lives transformed under the Hamlin Model of Care. It is estimated up to 31,000 Ethiopian women still live with an untreated fistula injury and new cases continue to occur.

The team at Hamlin continue to carry Catherine’s torch and vision, and are working to increase the number of women’s lives transformed from 60,000 to 100,000.