The World’s First Modern-Day Fistula Hospital

Word spread of the incredible work Drs Reg and Catherine Hamlin were doing at the Princess Tsehai Memorial Hospital. To cater for the increasing number of obstetric fistula patients arriving at their doorstep, Catherine and Reg began fundraising. In 1971, using money donated from New Zealand, they bought a piece of land on the outskirts of the city beside a little river. A few years later, in 1974, they officially opened the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, devoted solely to fistula surgery.

Setting the standard

From the beginning, they set the world’s best-practice standards of patient care and hygiene for women with obstetric fistula. Catherine’s care went beyond the medical: it included holding patients’ hands during check-ups, calming nervousness before surgeries and cheering up those not yet cured with the quiet, calm demeanour that she is known for. She made the gowns for the operating theatre and the sheets for the beds on her personal sewing machine. She drove herself into the city to collect medical supplies with patients travelling with her.

Catherine’s care as an ’emaye’ (or mother) to Ethiopian women was far beyond that of a doctor – it  was a personal connection and ethos that was passed on to every staff member and patient at the hospital. Catherine and Reg created the Hamlin Model of Care as the foundation for all medical care the organisation undertakes. The Hamlin Model of Care continues today and provides a complete treatment for women suffering obstetric fistulas; namely, surgical repairrehabilitation and counselling.

You can learn more about Catherine’s incredible experiences in the early years of her time in Ethiopia in our 60for60 series.

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