Dr. Catherine Hamlin celebrated her 93rd Birthday on Tuesday, January 24, 2017 at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.  She was joined by Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia staff and invited guests. Her only son, Mr. Richard Hamlin and his wife, Mrs. Jo, were also in the attendance. During the occasion, Mr. Richard made a remarkable speech.

“Today is the day – a 93rd birthday, special for anyone but especially for Emaye and all of us here. On Dr Hamlin’s behalf, thank you for interrupting your day to be here…

 …Dr Reginald Hamlin and his wife Dr Catherine arrived in Ethiopia to start work for the Ethiopian Health Ministry at the Princess Tsehai Hospital. As they gradually realized the need of patients with fistula, they knew they must stay in Ethiopia long after their contracts came to an end. They came across the many unbelievable life stories of patients that made them realize they had made the right choice to stay.

 One patient was cured after suffering urinary incontinence for forty years. She had lived all that time, due to shame at her condition’s offensive smell, in a separate house near her relatives. She was twenty when obstructed labour had caused her fistula. Her wonder at how easily she had been healed at the age of sixty and the fact that she had been living only a few kilometres from Addis all that time made her tears of gratitude especially sweet to witness. When she realized she was healed and dry, she knelt on the ground and tried to kiss Emaye’s feet… but Emaye also knelt on the ground and received her gratitude and helped the lady to her feet…”

Dr. Catherine thanked all Hamlin staff and partners who have stood on her side to help the poor women and young girls of Ethiopia, and asked them to remain committed until fistula becomes a history of the past in the country.

IMG_0359 IMG_0699

A ferry is named after world-renowned Australian doctor and humanitarian Catherine Hamlin in Sydney, Australia. More than 60, 000 votes were cast by the public on the final list of ferry names, and Sydneysiders have cast their votes in favour of naming the city’s first new ferry after Dr. Catherine Hamlin.

“This is the news we rejoice,” said Dr. Tesfaye Yacob, HFE CEO, adding that Dr. Catherine Hamlin is a remarkable woman and certainly deserves to be celebrated.

Dr. Catherine thanked Sydneysiders for their votes and hoped the ferry’s naming would draw greater attention to the work of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia. “I am so grateful. It really is lovely to know that so many people have tremendous love for our work and for our patients,” she said.

The Catherine Hamlin, along with other five new vessels, will be launched in Sydney Harbor in January.

sydney2

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia (HFE) handed over a modern maternity ward at Wetet Abay Health Center, Mecha district, Amhara region, to the community and management of the center on 8th November 2016. The facility was constructed with full support from HFE and the Peggy Foundation, Adelaide, Australia to improve maternal and child health care services in the district.wetet-abay-img-31

In his speech during the handing over ceremony, attended by staff members of Wetet Abay Health Center, representatives from HFE and Mecha District Health Bureau, and members of Wetet Abay community, Ato Zelalem Belete, Prevention Manager at HFE and Dean of Hamlin College of Midwives, said that the construction of the maternity ward at Wetet Abay Health Center will have enormous benefit to the Wetet Abay community, particularly in reducing child and maternal mortality in the area. He also appealed to opinion leaders and community elders in the area to educate women in their communities to attend the clinic when pregnant.

Operations Manager at HFE, Ato Tilahun Molla, said that the construction of the maternity block will enable expectant mothers to have access to quality antenatal and postnatal care, and this will subsequently lead to the decrease in infant mortality, maternal deaths and reproductive health issues.

Speaking at the ceremony, Ato Welderufayel Degu, Head of Wetet Abay Health Center said that the facility will benefit many mothers and their new-borns and encourage the health workers to keep up the good working spirit so far exhibited. He added that before the construction of the new maternity ward at the health center, they were faced with serious challenges for expectant mothers due to limited space, among others. “We are grateful to Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia and to everyone involved to such a worthwhile cause. We are so encouraged by what has been achieved so far and look forward to continued efforts in brining direct and tangible health benefits to our community,” he added.

wetet-abay-img-1

While congratulating the community on the construction of the modern ward at the center, Ato Belete Mengesha, representative from Mecha District Health Bureau, indicated that Wetet Abay district is one of the districts in Amhara region that has achieved great results in the reduction of maternal mortality in spite of challenges related to space, healthcare resources and mothers living in far and hard-to-reach areas. “I hope this modern ward will significantly contribute to the great results the community has achieved so far. “

A resident of the Mecha district, W/ro Felekech Gizaw, said that she is extremely happy that they have been given a facility that they have always desired for. “I delivered my first baby here on the floor just because the existing maternity ward had few beds and they all were occupied, now that this facility has been set up and we shall have better services,” she added.

Following the handover, members of the community were filled with pride and excitement to see their longstanding issue solved through the support from Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia.

Women No More Labor in Darkness

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia (HFE) has distributed more than 162 solar suitcases, a project funded by Greenlamp, to remote health centers in four regions to enhance safe and prompt delivery services at nights. Out of these suitcases, Oromiya  received 57, Amhara 51, Tigray 24, and SNNP 30.

A reliable light source is one of the things often lacking in these clinics, forcing midwives to resort to the use of flashlights and kerosene lamps. The inconveniences and health risks associated with these lighting sources in general are compounded when assisting mothers to deliver babies.

img_3094

The solar suitcases facilitate timely and appropriate emergency care, reduce maternal and infant morbidity and mortality, and improve the quality of care in the clinics. Without good lighting, it is extremely difficult to conduct safe deliveries, suture areas of bleeding, and resuscitate babies. “With the solar suitcases, health providers can see at night for routine deliveries, and can promptly diagnose and treat birth complications,” said Ato Abebayehu H/Selassie, Solar Suitcase Project Coordinator at HFE, adding that lack of light may lead to the loss of a baby’s or a mother’s life, or both.  “So far we have helped benefit nearly 30 thousand mothers, well over our target for the 2016 fiscal year. Although we have made significant progress toward reaching our goal, there are still many more mothers and newborns who can benefit from the solar suitcases,” he added.

“The solar suitcases have significantly addressed the electricity problem in the health centers, and transformed the night time care,” said, Dr. Tesfaye, HFE CEO, adding that plans are underway to distribute more solar suitcases in other remote health centers.

The Addis Abeba Fistula Hospital’s Operation Room named Dr. Reginald Operation Theater has been under renovation for the past two months and will be wrapped up this month. This  approximately 4 million birr renovation project has been carried out against the backdrop of adding a new intervention on Urology Fellowship that Hamlin is handling in collaboration with Mekele University and Paulos Hospital, and of Hamlin’s long-term strategic plan of providing ‘Quality Maternal Health Care Services.

img_5301

The renovation has incorporated installing a new machine, along with operation table, called C-arm/ fluoroscopy, which would maximize the accuracy and quality of surgeries undergoing in the Operation Room(OR).  “In the OR, the machine is used for a variety of diagnostic imaging including urology procedures and pain management,” said Dr. Fekade Ayenachew, Medical Director and Senior Fistula Surgeon at Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia. On his part, Dr. Yeshineh Demrew,  a Senior Fistula Surgeon at the hospital, indicated that the new C-arm machine would simplify the medical care to a very accurate digital service and increase the current surgery success rate. He added that the renovation provides medical staff with greater ease in delivering care in a timely fashion for a growing number of fistula patients.

The project has also included new flooring, wall colors, lighting and furniture as well as new finishes on the walls, handrails, flooring and ceilings. Small details to increase patient comfort are also given consideration. “We’re very excited about this renovation project, not only because it will provide a more comfortable, convenient environment for our patients, but because it will allow our staff and surgeons to offer better patient care day in and day out,” said CEO Dr. Tesfaye Yacob. Operations Manager, Ato Tilahun Mola, also indicated that all of the planned improvements for the hospital-current and future-will help solidify Hamlin Fistula Addis Ababa Hospital as a leading fistula care and treatment provider in the area.

 

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia has undergone many exciting changes this time around. New staff members are aboard, including:

  • The First Ethiopian CEO, Dr. Tesfaye Yacob
  • Planning and Program Manager, Dr. Demissew Beyene
  • Senior Fistula Surgeon, Dr. Mengistu Tefera, and
  • Information and Communication Manager, Dr. Teshome Tafesse

First Ethiopian CEO, Dr. Tesfaye Yacob

Dr. TesfayeHamlin Fistula Ethiopia (HFE) has welcomed its first Ethiopian Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dr. Tesfaye Yacob. He took up the position in April 2016, and since then he has been fully engaged in providing overall direction to the Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia.

“We’re thrilled and honored to have Dr. Tesfaye as the first Ethiopian CEO at this very critical time. I’m optimist that he’ll bring some remarkable changes in the organization,” said Dr. Catherin Hamlin, co-founder of HFE.  Medical Director at HFE, Dr. Fekade Ayenachew, also expressed his optimism about the organization’s future. “Dr. Tesfaye has broad experience that makes him uniquely capable of strengthening our organization and the quality and quantity of fistula care, treatment, prevention and rehabilitation we will continue to offer.”

With over 30 years of experience as a clinician, trainer, instructor, researcher, director and public health manager, both in government and non-government organizations, Dr. Tesfaye is the right person for the appointment.

A medical doctor by training, Dr. Tesfaye has worked in leadership roles in various organizations and succeeded in transforming many of them. Prior to joining Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, Dr. Tesfaye served as Medical Director at Ras Desta Hospital, Addis Ababa. During his brief tenure at the hospital, he oversaw a number of projects and achieved unprecedented organizational growth. Between 1996 and 2010, he served, among others, as General Secretary of a church denomination and Executive Director of a large development program. Further to his experience, he worked as Coordinator of a Coalition of Churches and Bible Agencies, Instructor of leadership courses at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, and a Board Member of the Consortium of Christian Relief Association (CCRDA).

As part of his academic contribution, Dr. Tesfaye has produced a number of researches and published them in reputable journals. Some of his research findings show how CSOs in Ethiopia better serve their target communities.  He has also made a number of national and international presentations.

“I am glad to be here and contribute my share,” Dr. Tesfaye stated, as he noted that the contribution of each and every member of the Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia and its partners is vital in the care, treatment, prevention and rehabilitation of the fistula injuries. Asked what he has felt since he took up the position, he said, “Things have been going well. Everybody has been very accommodating and helpful. Our team genuinely cares for our patients that are experiencing the agony of childbirth injuries. Our goal is to focus on the individual needs of each patient in a caring and compassionate manner.”

HFE staff, partners and members wish Dr. Tesfaye all the very success.

 


Planning & Program Manager, Dr. Demissew Beyene

img_5276On the 1st of October 2016 Dr. Demissew Beyene took up his appointment as the new Planning & Program Manager of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia (HFE). “I’m happy to contribute with my expertise, and very grateful for being provided with the opportunity to work at Hamlin,” Dr. Demissew said.

Demissew obtained B.Sc degree majoring Chemistry with a minor in Biology from Addis Ababa University. He received M.Phil degree in International Health (Biotechnology/Immunology) from the University of Bergen, Norway in 1993 and a PhD in Epidemiology/Public Health from the same university in 2010.

He has outstanding experience in building and leading multi-disciplinary teams, and bringing consortium projects to success including managing big grants. He is top performer with high level of technological and technical expertise, alongside with hands-on management experience, on molecular biology/biotechnology, microbiology, immunology, histopathology, and public health issues. He has a good experience of advising M.Sc and PhD thesis research students and staff. Moreover, he has the experience of developing curriculum in higher learning institutions, and organizing workshops, conferences and seminars. Furthermore, he has an extensive experience of writing up project proposals for grant applications, and publishing original articles in peer review journals as author & coauthor.

Dr. Demissew brings to his new role over 27 years of experience as an instructor, advisor, researcher and curriculum developer at higher learning institutions, and manager of consortium projects, both in government and non-government organizations. “We are delighted to have him join our team as Planning & Program Manager. He has all the skills and experience that Hamlin needs, and I’m optimist that his contribution will be enormous in realizing HFE’s mission and vision,” said Dr. Tesfaye Yacob, HFE CEO, adding that the success of any organization depends on the cumulative success of the projects that the organization manages.

 


Senior Fistula Surgeon, Dr. Mengistu Tefera

Aimg_4543s its effort to provide a well-rounded care and treatment for its fistula patients, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia welcomes Dr. Mengistu Tefera, Obstetrician and Gynecologist, as its new medical staff. “We are delighted to welcome Dr. Mengistu to our medical staff,” said Dr. Tesfaye Yacb, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia CEO.  “Trained fistula surgeons are in short supply, and Dr. Mengistu is a great addition to our medical team as we continue our efforts in the care and treatment of fistula injuries,” he added.

Dr. Mengistu brings to Hamlin more than 13 years of work experience, ranging from general health practitioner to university lecturer. He has joined Hamlin as a senior fistula surgeon, and offers a full range of services in his medical practice.  “I’m excited to continue the excellent fistula care and treatment the organization has already been providing,” said Dr. Mengistu, adding, “I love practicing in the field because it gives me time to listen to and address my patients’ concerns.” My philosophy is to treat the ‘whole’ person by addressing our patients’ psychiatric, physical and emotional needs. Fistula has profound and devastating consequences for the patient’s physical and physiological health, he further noted.

Dr. Mengistu recalls the moment he was impressed by the good deeds of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia. “ I came to know Hamlin for the first time some five years ago. I was taking a three-month-training at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, and was deeply touched by Dr. Catherine’s life-saving mission, and immediately promised to myself to contribute my share. And since then, I’ve been looking for opportunities to join Hamlin. I’m glad I’ve made it.” “Nothing else could be more satisfactory than helping the very poor women and young girls of my country who have suffered from the physical, psychological and social effects of fistula for years, and getting them, at the end, totally cured and back home with full dignity,” he added.


Information and Communication Manager, Dr. Teshome Tafesse

edited-2-2HFE has also welcomed Dr. Teshome Tafesse as a new Information and Communication Manager. Dr. Teshome brings over 15 years of experience in universities, media institutions, embassies and non-government organizations both in Ethiopia and abroad.

In his new capacity as Information and Communication Manager at HFE, Dr. Teshome will guide the overall communication efforts, both internal and external, of the organization. “I’m honored to be part of an organization that is dedicated to providing excellent fistula care, treatment and prevention,” he said, stating that effective communication stimulates actions on obstetric fistula among decision makers, opinion leaders, medical personnel, and affected communities.

Prior to his current position, Dr. Teshome served as a Communication Manager for Investment Climate Facility for Africa, and Communication, Partnership and Fundraising Manager for Love in Action Ethiopia. His experience also includes an Assistant Professor of Media and Communication Studies at Addis Ababa University, Reporter and Editor at the American Embassy, and Documentary Film Producer at Walta Information Center. His international experience, among others, includes a Community Living Counselor at the Institute of Catholic Charities, and Case Manager at Bread for the City in Washington DC, USA.

Dr. Teshome has also worked as a Communication Advisor and Consultant for a number of local and international NGOs. In a voluntary capacity, he has served as Board Chairperson for Care for Life Ethiopia, a local NGO, and Continental Revivalists’ Association. As part of his scholarly contributions, he has produced a number of publications, and made various presentations at national and international seminars and conferences. “Dr. Teshome’s extensive experience in national and international settings and proven track record in organizational relationship building will significantly contribute to the realization of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia’s mission and vision,” said Dr. Tesfaye Yacob, HFE CEO.

 

The Hamlin College of Midwives graduated 20 female candidates with BSc Degree in Midwifery on Saturday, the 8th of October, at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital’s compound.  Families, friends, staff, Board of Trustees, and representatives from partner organizations, embassies and the government, as well as honored guests from overseas attended the ceremony and celebrated the graduates’ accomplishments as they completed a significant step in midwifery education.

img_4990

Dean of the College and Prevention Manager, Ato Zelalem Belete, along with Hamlin’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Tesfaye Yacob, presided over the College’s sixth -graduation ceremony.  “This is a tremendous milestone that you have reached,” Ato Zelalem said, while congratulating the graduates for their successful achievements.  “One thing that you have gotten here at Hamlin College of Midwives –in addition to your subject matter-is serving your community to the best you can. That requires compassion, dedication, commitment and belongingness. I’m glad that you’ve all this,” he noted. “These 20 graduates will raise the total number of skilled female midwives to 105, trained and deployed by the College since 2007,” he further noted.

Chief Executive Officer of the Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, Dr. Tesfaye Yacob, also spoke at the ceremony.  “We are extremely proud of what our students have accomplished as a result of study at our College. Congratulations for you’ve officially joined today the oldest profession in human history. Through your respected practices, you are contributing to the final task of eliminating Obstetric Fistula and transforming the services of HFE towards Comprehensive Maternal Health Service Unit.”

“I’m here to celebrate success and new beginnings of my 6th batch graduates. Congratulations my children! Through your hard work and determination, you find yourself here today at your College graduation surrounded by friends, family members and staff . When making your way through life, never forget your College and your instructors, who bestowed this knowledge upon you,” Dr. Catherine Hamlin, co-founder of the Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, addressed the graduates.

Honorable guest of the day and member of HFE Board of Trustees, W/ro Mulu Solomon  awarded the graduates with degrees and congratulated them for their achievements. “On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to congratulate Hamlin’s 6th graduating class. We are right to be proud of you, and of such a College. You’ve learned to live uprightly, to think more rationally and effectively, and to find solutions. This has been part of your four-year- education at the College. Be loyal to yourself, your profession and your community, and do it from your heart. Our poor mothers and young girls in remote areas are very much in need of you,” she said.

Student Representative, Hanna Tesfaye, also made a speech during the ceremony. “What an incredible honor and privilege it is for me to stand here before you all today representing the graduating class of 2016. Congratulations to everyone of you! You should be very proud of yourselves accomplishing this goal. This is a time to reflect upon the 4-year journey that we have just finished, which has been the most rewarding experience of our lives as we now start our journeys as the custodians of our nation’s young girls and women.” Graduate Malefiya Mamo, winner of the 2016 Outstanding Academic Achievement Award, said that she had received all the theoretical knowledge and practical skills during her four-year- learning at the College. “The sky’s is the limit! I’m here after four years of hard work, commitment and determination. I thank you all, and am ready for the next step, serving my community.”

The College is planning to launch Masters Program in Midwifery as of 2017, noted Ato Zelalem during the graduation.

A PRINCESS CAME TO TOWN

One famous Australian woman met another in Ethiopia recently, when Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark met Dr Catherine Hamlin AC on her home turf in Addis Ababa. Princess Mary was on her second and longest visit to Ethiopia as part of a three-day humanitarian trip. She chose to make time to visit legendary Australian obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Catherine Hamlin, the staff and patients at Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. Both women, recognised and known across the globe for their grace, humility, compassion and style forged a natural bond over a cup of Ethiopian tea and home-made biscuits on the verandah of Catherine Hamlin’s home for the last 56 years.

Visiting the fistula hospital and meeting the patients was an emotional experience for Princess Mary as she was moved by the life-changing work of Dr Catherine Hamlin and her dedicated staff. No clearer example of the critical work being undertaken by the hospital was the newborn baby girl whom the princess was able. Princess Mary’s natural warmth and graciousness was praised by Feven Haddis, Deputy CEO and Global Communications Director of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, “We were delighted the Princess was able to shine a light on the work of Dr Catherine Hamlin and her team here in Ethiopia. Princess Mary was very knowledgeable about obstetric fistula and the challenges we have ahead of us to eradicate this terrible childbirth injury.”

Princess Mary was taken on a tour of the main ward of the fistula hospital where she was able to meet local Ethiopian staff and the patients. She left the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital that day not only with gifts of jewellery from the patients but also an ongoing admiration for Dr Catherine Hamlin and the Ethiopian staff for their dedication and care to improving the lives of Ethiopian women.

The Princess remarked, “I have met so many angels here in Ethiopia and one of them is 91-year-old Dr Catherine Hamlin. She has done so much for the women of Ethiopia and it was a great experience to meet and talk to her today”.

Princess Mary’s trip to Ethiopia was an intensive three days with a focus on the enhancement and improvement of women and children’s health care and humanitarian rights, an ongoing passion of hers. Her trip began with a visit to the refugee camp in Gambella, where she opened a youth centre and was delighted to watch the refugees perform singing and dancing. In what is known as hottest inhabited place on earth, the Afar region, Princess Mary met women and children staying at a safe house who had been affected by violence and abuse and was moved by their stories of survival.

Travelling to Ethiopia to meet the local people, hear their stories and witness the inspirational work of committed individuals and agencies first hand was a reflection of Princess Mary’s unflagging charitable and advocacy work for improved health care and humanitarian rights for women and children around the world. Since becoming a member of the Danish Royal family, Princess Mary has championed many causes that are close to her heart and in 2007 she established The Mary Foundation to improve the lives of people who are isolated and excluded from society. She has been recognised for her exhaustive humanitarian work and in 2014 received The Bambi Charity Award in Berlin for her social engagement and focus on domestic violence. As Patron of the United Nations Population Fund, she is committed to the work of the United Nations in promoting maternal health and safer motherhood in more than 150 developing nations.

Her ability to easily relate to local people may be a reflection of her own simple life. Princess Mary was not born into royalty but was originally born in Tasmania, Australia, the youngest of four children. She studied law and commerce and moved into managing real estate in Sydney. She met her husband to be, Crown Prince Frederik, whilst he was in Australia for the Sydney Olympic Games. They married in 2003. Mary won the hearts of the Danish people by learning what is acknowledged as a difficult language, Danish. She and Prince Frederik now have four children and together they have continued to actively support a range of organisations and charities across the world.

This Q&A was published in Sydney Alumni Magazine (SAM), November 2014. Dr Hamlin graduated in medicine at the University of Sydney in 1946.

By Michael Visontay

Catherine and midwivesDr Catherine Hamlin is a gynaecologist who has spent most of her life in Ethiopia. Over the past 40 years she has revolutionised care of a childbirth injury called obstetric fistula – this occurs when the baby gets stuck in the birth canal and there is no doctor to perform a cesarean section.

Up to two million women worldwide suffer from fistulas, mainly in developing countries. The babies die, and women are left incontinent and stigmatised by their families and communities.

Dr Hamlin’s lifelong commitment to help them was recognised in a moving celebration in Addis Ababa, 2014, when she turned 90. In 2014, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the second time. The first was in 1999.

Dr Hamlin graduated as doctor from the University of Sydney in 1946 and after several internships became a resident in obstetrics at Crown Street Women’s hospital, where her husband-to-be, Reginald Hamlin, was medical superintendent.

In 1958 they answered an ad in The Lancet to set up a midwifery school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They had never seen an obstetric fistula, and the prevalence of the problem prompted them to eventually set up a hospital dedicated to treating the condition.

Since founding the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in 1974, they have trained generations of doctors to repair fistulas. It has provided a model that has been replicated in other countries, where foundations and clinics now try to prevent as well as treat the condition. In 2005, in recognition of her achievements, the University awarded Dr Hamlin an Honorary Doctorate of Medicine.

Ahead of the announcement about the Nobel Prize, SAM asked Dr Hamlin about her medical and humanitarian journey.

WHAT IMPACT DID YOUR EDUCATION AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY HAVE ON YOUR CAREER?

“I graduated medicine at the University of Sydney in 1946. I had decided to study medicine in my last year at school, but it was during my fifth year of university that I had one of the most defining experiences of my life. I went to hear a famous missionary speaker, Reverend Hugh Paton in Sydney, and was deeply moved by his message.

It prompted my desire, and my conviction that some day I would help others in this world. So in actual fact, it was my time at Sydney University that completely set the course of my life to spend more than half a century in Ethiopia with the poorest, most wretched patients of all.”

HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN ETHIOPIA IN THE FIRST PLACE?

“I believe God guided Reg and me to Ethiopia. We were searching for more fulfilling work in a developing country and we answered an advertisement in The Lancet medical journal for gynaecologists needed in Addis Ababa. It was to set up a school of midwifery. We had no idea this opportunity would lead to our life’s work.

We had never seen an obstetric fistula before arriving in Ethiopia; it was an academic rarity. We initially worked at the Princess Tsehai Memorial Hospital in Addis Ababa, and as news of our success in saving lives and curing obstetric fistula spread more and more patients followed.

In 1974 we founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. I have a tremendous love for the work and the people. The plight of our poor patients is so terrible; what we are trying to do is to prevent these injuries and wake up the world.”

ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC THAT THE FISTULA PROBLEM IN ETHIOPIA WILL BE REMEDIED?

“I know that my dream of eradicating obstetric fistula from Ethiopia will not be achieved in my own lifetime, but it just may in the next. To be able to train dedicated young doctors and midwives is marvellous for me and my loyal staff, especially as they become enthusiastic about helping these poor women. It gives me confidence that the eradication of obstetric fistula can be achieved.

There are thousands of new cases in the countryside as the population continues to climb and there is still a backlog of some 40,000 cases we have not reached but our large hospital in Addis Ababa and the five regional centres continue in the fight to save women’s lives.

The Hamlin College of Midwives is also working to train local midwives to prevent obstetric fistula. If these poor women who come to us had only had access to a trained midwife early in labour they would have recognised something was wrong and been sent to the nearest hospital.

My work and that of the hospitals is important, but it is more important to prevent fistula in the first instance and our midwives can achieve this. My dream is for there to be a midwife in every village of Ethiopia.”

WILL YOU EVER RETIRE?

“I know I haven’t many years left ahead but I have no plans to retire. I still work six days a week. I could never imagine just living here and not working. Reg and I came to Ethiopia motivated to help people and the work we started together is not finished.

I will carry on for as long as I possibly can. There are six hospitals and a midwifery school to keep going, and I have to continue to raise money to fund them. It is this work that keeps my heart going, and my life going.”

When Dr Catherine Hamlin was born in January 1924, “Happy Birthday to You” was first published, the first winter Olympics were held in France, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was number one in the US charts and Stanley Bruce was the Prime Minister of Australia! It’s been 91 years and Dr Hamlin has certainly had a remarkable life. Between 1924 and 2015 Dr Hamlin has achieved more than most, co-founding the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital with her husband Reginald and spending more than half a century living in Ethiopia, serving some of the most marginalised women in the world.

During her lifetime, Dr Hamlin has lived through World War II (she was studying medicine in Sydney throughout the war) and after moving to Ethiopia in 1959, lived through three government regimes and the disastrous famine on the 1980s. The Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital and her brave patients were always Dr Hamlin’s focus through the most challenging times.

At age 91, Dr Hamlin still takes an active role in the leadership of the hospital and lives in her cottage on the banks of the river within the hospital grounds.

In the last year Dr Hamlin has officiated another successful graduation at the Hamlin College of Midwives and was nominated for a second time for a Nobel Peace Prize. What a year it has been.

This year, Dr Hamlin celebrated her birthday in Addis Ababa with some very special guests and patients. It was quiet an intimate occasion compared to last year’s 90th birthday celebration for several hundred guests.

Dr Catherine Hamlin's 91st Birthday

Pictured here on her birthday in January 2015, Dr Hamlin celebrates with her patients.