The History of Hamlin

“This place will go on for many, many years until we have eradicated fistula altogether – until every woman in Ethiopia is assured of a safe delivery and a live baby.” 

– Dr Catherine Hamlin

Drs Catherine and Reg Hamlin 

Founded over 60 years ago, by pioneering Australian surgeon Dr Catherine Hamlin and her surgeon husband Dr Reg Hamlin, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is dedicated to treating Ethiopian women who have suffered the most horrific childbirth injury: obstetric fistula. 

Obstetric fistula is an internal injury caused by an unrelieved obstructed labour during childbirth. Obstetric fistula leaves a woman incontinent, humiliated and grieving the loss of her child. Learn more about obstetric fistula here.

Drs Reg and Catherine Hamlin met and married when they were both medical officers at Crown Street Women’s Hospital in Sydney Australia. Their adventurous spirit inspired them to accept a three-year contract with the Ethiopian Government to work as obstetrician-gynaecologists and set up a midwifery school in Addis Ababa. 

On the evening of their arrival in Ethiopia in 1959, a fellow gynaecologist said, “The fistula patients will break your hearts.” And indeed they did.

Catherine said: “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. We knew she was more in need than any of the others. And so, we saw the first of many fistula patients.” 

These pioneering doctors from Australia never left Ethiopia. Instead, Catherine and Reg committed their lives to Ethiopian women and to improving maternal health care in the country they called home. 

They were relentless in their approach and refused to turn their backs on Ethiopia’s women. They worked through military unrest, famine, and a brutal civil war – all the while with an unwavering commitment to the women of Ethiopia.

Initially working from the Princess Tsehai Memorial Hospital in Addis Ababa, Catherine and Reg refined the surgical technique to repair 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, more patients arrived. 

To cater for the demand from a large number of patients suffering from obstetric fistula, Catherine and Reg began fundraising and opened the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in 1974.

Dr Reg Hamlin worked at the hospital until he died in 1993. After Reg’s death, Catherine refused to leave. She stayed on and developed a complete treatment for women suffering with a fistula. Surgical repair, counselling, rehabilitation and reintegration all form elements of the Hamlin Model of Care – the world’s leading approach to preoperative and postoperative fistula treatment. 

Catherine and her team went on to open another five Hamlin regional fistula hospitals, a rehabilitation and reintegration centre, as well as a college training midwives to prevent fistula injuries occurring in the first place. She was determined to carry on their dream of eradicating obstetric fistula from Ethiopia. 

Catherine lived on the grounds of Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital until she passed away peacefully at her home there in March 2020.

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia Today 

Today, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia comprises Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, five Hamlin regional fistula hospitals, the Hamlin College of Midwives, more than 90 Hamlin-supported midwifery clinics and the Hamlin Rehabilitation and Reintegration Centre (Desta Mender). 

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia’s governance and team is 100% Ethiopian with almost 600 Ethiopian professionals – many of whom were trained by Catherine – working across the organisation to deliver the Hamlin Model of Care for women with fistula injuries. They continue Catherine and Reg’s vision and work.
The Board of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia comprises a group of very experienced Ethiopian medical,  development and business professionals, all of whom are Ethiopian and are based in Ethiopia. 

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia remains the reference organisation and leader in the fight to eradicate obstetric fistula around the world, blazing a trail for holistic treatment and care that empowers women to reassert their humanity, secure their health and well- being, and regain their roles in their families and communities.

Under Dr Catherine Hamlin’s pioneering guidance, the clinical team at Hamlin have treated over 70,000 Ethiopian women. Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia’s goal is to eradicate fistula in Ethiopia. While eradication once seemed impossible, it is becoming a reality that will be achieved because there is a growing movement of generous supporters who are determined to see this dream come true. 

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is committed to achieving Catherine and Reg’s vision for a fistula-free Ethiopia – and they won’t stop until it is eradicated. Forever.