In 1946 Catherine Hamlin graduated in medicine at the University of Sydney. She met and married Dr Reginald Hamlin when they were both senior medical officers at Crown Street Women’s Hospital in Sydney. In 1959, Reg and Catherine, with their six-year-old son Richard, accepted a three-year contract with the Ethiopian Government to work as obstetrician-gynaecologists to set up a midwifery school in Addis Ababa.
On the evening of their arrival in Ethiopia, a fellow gynaecologist told them, “The fistula patients will break your hearts.” The Hamlin’s had never seen an obstetric fistula case before and there was little or no treatment available in Ethiopia.
Initially working from the Princess Tsehai Memorial Hospital in Addis Ababa, Catherine and Reg 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.
In 1962, the Hamlin’s built a hostel in the grounds of the Princess Tsehai, using money donated from overseas. The Hamlin’s then worked for more than a decade to establish a fistula hospital, and in 1974, founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, the only medical centre in the world at that time dedicated exclusively to obstetric fistula repair.
Dr Reg Hamlin worked at the hospital until he died in 1993. Since then, Catherine’s work for obstetric fistula sufferers in Ethiopia has continued uninterrupted for more than half a century, with more than 45,000 patients treated. Catherine has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and has received numerous international awards and acknowledgements for her dedication and pioneering work. In 2009 she was awarded the ‘alternative Nobel Peace Prize’, the Right Livelihood Award, for her work and in 2012 was given Ethiopian Honorary citizenship.
You can read more about Catherine and Regs’ amazing work in two bestselling books: Hospital by the River by Dr Catherine Hamlin with Australian journalist John Little and Catherine’s Gift by John Little. Both titles are now available in a number of languages.