Catherine Hamlin: Grief in Ethiopia as trailblazing Australian physician dies

Dr Catherine Hamlin with staff and cured fistula patients in Addis Ababa, 2008Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Dr Catherine Hamlin with employees and cured fistula sufferers in Addis Ababa in 2008

No-one got here to satisfy Catherine Hamlin the day she arrived at a tiny airport in Ethiopia in 1959.

More than 60 years later, the information of the Australian gynaecologist’s loss of life on the age of 96 was met with an outpouring of grief within the nation she had made her dwelling.

That is due to the work Dr Hamlin – alongside together with her late husband, Reginald – did reworking and, in some instances, saving the lives of tens of hundreds of girls who had been forged out of their communities.

Treating obstetric fistulas – a preventable damage sustained in childbirth that leaves girls incontinent and might result in different infections – would grow to be her life’s work.

“These are the women most to be pitied in the world,” Dr Hamlin told the New York Times in 2003.

“They’re alone in the world, ashamed of their injuries. For lepers, or Aids victims, there are organisations that help. But nobody knows about these women or helps them.”

Elinor Catherine Nicholson was born in Sydney in 1924, one in all six kids. She determined to coach to be a physician as a result of she needed to assist girls and kids.

After she accomplished her coaching, she started work at Crown Street Women’s Hospital, the place she met a physician from New Zealand, Reginald Hamlin.

They had been married in 1950, and had a son, Richard, two years later.

‘We by no means got here again’

But the 2 needed to go and work in a creating nation, and sooner or later an advert in British medical journal The Lancet caught their eye.

“It just read ‘gynaecologist wanted in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa’,” Dr Hamlin informed the BBC in 2016. It was sufficient to pique their curiosity, and the couple utilized.

“We felt we would like to do something to help people in the world, because we had had so many advantages,” Dr Hamlin defined.

The concept was to remain for a few years. “But we never came back.”

So they set off from Sydney, sending a cable from the center of the Indian Ocean to let their new colleagues know of their imminent arrival. It didn’t fairly go in line with plan.

“The cable didn’t get there until three weeks after we did, so there was nobody to meet us.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Reginald (L) and Catherine (R) Hamlin throughout a go to to Australia in 1971

But they quickly settled in, and it wasn’t lengthy earlier than they started to note numerous girls with a situation they’d by no means seen earlier than: obstetric fistula.

“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 Hamlin later recalled to the Guardian.

“We knew she was more in need than any of the others.”

Two million girls stay with the situation globally, largely in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Without assist, many die. Those who survive – like the girl within the ready room – are left with accidents that go away them incontinent, typically closely.

In Ethiopia many had been left with a deep sense of disgrace. They discovered themselves banished to the outskirts of their communities, deserted by their husbands. The stigma and social isolation led some to finish their lives.

‘I felt so comfortable’

But the Hamlins knew it was each fixable and preventable – as they informed Ethiopia’s then ruler, Haile Selassie.

“He said, why do my women get this terrible thing where they can’t control their body waste?” Dr Hamlin informed the BBC.

“We said, it is nothing to do with your women, it is to do with your lack of doctors in the countryside when they need to have a Caesarian section.”

Mamitu Gashe was one of many girls who Dr Hamlin and her husband handled within the early days, once they labored at Princess Teshai Hospital.

It was 1962, and Mamitu had suffered a fistula giving beginning to her first baby. It was a three-day labour, and the child didn’t survive.

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Image caption Dr Hamlin with Mamitu Gashe in 1994

Like so many different girls in Ethiopia, she was left incontinent. But she had a sister within the capital, and her household took her to town to search out assist.

It was then they found the Hamlins’ specialist ward.

“As soon as I arrived there, they treated me with compassion and I started to feel much better,” she informed the BBC after she was named one of many BBC’s 100 Women 2018.

“They told me that I was not the only one suffering from this, that other women had this. As soon as they said that, I felt hopeful, I felt so happy.”

But the Hamlins would not only help repair the damage; they also gave Mamitu – who has no formal education – a new career: she is now an internationally respected fistula surgeon, having been taught by the Hamlins.

“I couldn’t read or write,” she explained in 2018. “Everything I knew, I knew from the Hamlins.”

Mamitu was one of the staff members the Hamlins took to Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital when it opened in 1974.

‘She broke our hearts’

In 1993, Dr Hamlin lost her beloved husband. Faced with a choice to stay or leave, she decided her work was not yet done.

In the following years, the Hamlin Foundation opened five rural hospitals offering healthcare to women, as well as a facility for long-term care patients. Then, in 2007, Dr Hamlin saw one of her initial dreams finally fulfilled: the Hamlin College of Midwives opened.

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Media captionThe BBC’s Tulip Mazumdar reports from Uganda on UK doctors helping those living with fistula. Contains images of surgery

It is thought the organisation has treated more than 60,000 women for obstetric fistulas over the decades.

But in spite of these successes, Dr Hamlin was still disappointed at how little had been achieved,

“We had one little girl not too long ago, who had terrible injuries,” she told the UN’s World Food Programme in 2011.

“She had been lying curled up for nine years on the floor on a mat. Her mother had been looking after her, thinking perhaps that the urine would dry up. She was in a state of malnutrition, 22kg (48lb), as she was carried on the back of her poor old mother, coming into the hospital.

“She broke our hearts.”

And so, Dr Hamlin continued her fight for the women of Ethiopia to the end.

Last year, Ethiopia’s Nobel Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed handed her a prestigious citizenship award – one of many she was given during her lifetime. Then, in January, she celebrated her 96th birthday. Mamitu was by her side.

“We called Catherine mum, because she is like our mother,” she explained to the BBC last year.

Dr Hamlin died on 18 March at her dwelling in Addis Ababa, the place she made her dwelling. She left behind her son, grandchildren and a dream she needs others to fulfil in her reminiscence.

“My dream is to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever,” she stated.

“I won’t do this in my lifetime, but you can in yours.”


More on fistula

  • Occurs because of obstructed labour inflicting a gap within the bladder and/or bowel
  • Patient is continually leaking urine and/or faeces
  • In most instances the place it happens, the child dies throughout childbirth
  • Two million girls residing with the situation globally, largely in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia
  • Up to 100,000 new instances globally annually
  • Condition is solely preventable and treatable

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