What is obstetric fistula?

One of the worst things that can happen to a woman is an obstetric fistula, an internal injury caused by an obstructed labour during childbirth. A fistula is an internal injury in the form of a hole between the birth canal and the bladder and/or rectum. It leaves women leaking urine or faeces, and sometimes both.

Tragically, 93% of women who suffer an obstetric fistula will give birth to a stillborn baby, often after an agonising obstructed labour that has lasted several days. It is estimated that around 31,000 women are still living with untreated fistula injuries in Ethiopia. A further 3,000 women suffer fistula injuries every year, due to a lack of access to quality healthcare. These terrible injuries leave women trapped in a life of pain, shame and isolation.

Obstetric Fistula

A preventable tragedy

Although the condition is almost entirely preventable, it is still a huge public health issue impacting many women around the world. We believe every woman should be able to deliver her baby safely and without harm.

Join a community who are determined to eradicate fistula, forever. A regular gift of just $2 a day will provide life-changing treatment to women in Ethiopia who have suffered this devastating childbirth injury.

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How is obstetric fistula treated?

In most cases obstetric fistula can be repaired with a single life-changing surgery, but for some women who have suffered for many years, their injuries will require more complex treatment. Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is globally renowned for its fistula treatment and surgeons from around the world visit and train at Hamlin hospitals to learn best-practice fistula-repair surgery. Developed by Dr Catherine Hamlin, this pioneering surgical technique has been recognised by global leading organisations. Click here to read the profiles of Hamlin’s Clinical Team. 

Obstetric Fistula
Obstetric Fistula


Dr Catherine Hamlin’s dream was to eradicate obstetric fistula forever, so that every woman can be free from these atrocious internal injuries.

“These women have suffered more than any woman should be called upon to ensure. To meet only one is to be profoundly moved and calls forth the utmost compassion that the human heart is capable of feeling.” – Dr Catherine Hamlin

How is obstetric fistula prevented?

Timely access to quality maternal healthcare is critical in preventing obstetric fistulas. In Australia, obstetric fistulas are virtually a thing of the past, however in countries like Ethiopia more than 70% of births take place without a doctor or nurse present. Hamlin Midwives are the key to a fistula-free Ethiopia. Just $200 will recruit a student from a remote area to train as a Hamlin Midwife.

Midwives in remote areas can be the difference between life and death. They can identify a woman in obstructed labour and get her to help before a fistula injury occurs. The more midwives working in the field, the less maternal and neonatal deaths. That’s why Dr Catherine Hamlin established the Hamlin College of Midwives in 2007. There are over 50 Hamlin-supported midwifery clinics across rural Ethiopia and the impact is remarkable – when a Hamlin Midwife arrives at a clinic, new cases of fistula drop to almost zero in nearby villages. In the past three years alone, Hamlin Midwives have delivered over 70,000 babies.

At Hamlin, women receive life-changing treatment free of charge, thanks to a community of people who are determined to eradicate fistula, forever.

Chaltu’s Story

“Look at me now, I am extraordinarily dry. What surprised me most during my stay at this hospital was the motherly and holistic care I received – even during this hard time with the pandemic, all the services that probably would cost a lot of money are free of charge. I can’t thank you enough for your unconditional love and care. You may think this is just a job, but for me and women like me, it is like a rebirth. Thank you for giving back my life again.” – Chaltu

Read how Chaltu’s life was restored after she suffered a preventable tragedy. 

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Obstetric Fistula

Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation has one purpose and one purpose only: eradicating fistula. Forever.