We exist to ensure the health and dignity of women who have survived horrendous – and preventable – childbirth injuries.
Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia takes a holistic approach. One that seeks to repair, mend and heal all the scars, emotional and physical that come with a childbirth injury.
Catherine Hamlin’s dream is to eradicate obstetric fistula in Ethiopia so that every woman can be free from these atrocious internal injuries.
Obstetric fistula can mostly be repaired with a single life-changing surgery.
Upon arrival at the hospital, patients are embraced with tender loving care. They are given nutritious food, a handmade blanket and the empathy of staff – a number of whom are cured fistula patients themselves. For many patients, this would have been one of the first instances of emotional and physical support since their injury.
Patients also undergo a rigorous program that includes physiotherapy and counselling.
This forms the holistic wraparound care that works tirelessly to restore their dignity and their health.
With a success rate of around 95 percent, the hospital is globally renowned for its treatment technique. Over 30 surgeons from around the world have visited and trained at the hospital to learn this acclaimed best practice for fistula surgery.
Dr Hamlin’s pioneering surgical techniques have been recognised globally, including through the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Global Health Council for best practices in Global Health, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, the Distinguished Surgeon Award from the Society of Gynecologic Surgeons and the Australian Medical Association, to name but a few.
Since the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital’s establishment, an additional five regional hospitals have been opened due to significant demand for fistula surgery as well as a safe birthing facility where caesarean sections can be performed on former patients.
These five regional hospitals are focused on the complete function of maternal health, from providing caesarean sections for returning fistula patients to performing fistula treatment surgeries.
Today, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is fully staffed by over 550 Ethiopians who continue Catherine’s dream of transforming maternal healthcare throughout Ethiopia.
When Catherine and Reg first arrived in Ethiopia, they initially worked from the Princess Tsehai Memorial Hospital in Addis Ababa. It was here where they 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.
To cater for the demand, Catherine and Reg began fundraising and opened the first Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in 1974. This hospital has been the foundation of the pioneering surgical treatments, rehabilitation and training programs executed by Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia.
It is the emotional scars of shame and isolation that are often the hardest to treat with survivors of obstetric fistula. These women have been shunned by their husbands and families and discarded to live in isolation because of their putrid smell.
Catherine knew that any physical treatment had to come hand in hand with mending emotional scars. Restoring the dignity of women who have suffered from the humiliation of a fistula injury is paramount to rehabilitation.
Women are provided with physiotherapy, counselling, embraced in a warm blanket and given a new dress once they depart back to their homes. Patients are also provided with literacy and numeracy classes.
And beyond the emotional and physical mending of scars and injury, patients are also supported with income-generating training and placements.
Desta Mender is a farm and training facility, next to a mountain on the outskirts of Addis Ababa and given to Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia by the Ethiopian government. It has market gardens, an orchard and dairy farm, as well as the Juniper Cafe, where residents learn the secrets of the hospitality trade.
Desta Mender, meaning ‘Joy Village’ is where long-term patients live for a period of time. Here, they can access the medical care they need whilst gaining independence and learning new skills.
For those women that have been shunned from society, this is a critical aspect of rebuilding self-belief and harnessing their inner strength.