International Women’s Day – Dr Catherine Hamlin

A woman presents after a pack of hyenas devours her baby alive as she gives birth under a tree as she was too far away from the hospital.

A woman presents for treatment of a fistula after begging for 7 years to make up the transport fare to reach the hospital.

Countless women present after prolonged labour of over 3 days for the doctors to deliver babies that have either been calcified or decomposed in her uterus.

Countless women present after suffering for years from a vesico-vaginal fistula (abnormal connection between the bladder and the vagina), resulting in the formation of calcified stones the size of a grapefruit lodged in their vaginal canal.

These are some but not all of the horrific events encountered by the Hamlins in Ethiopia as they went on to develop one of the world’s only obstetric-related fistula hospitals that provide free care. Initially they moved from Australia to the land of the extreme rich and the extreme poor in order to train midwives; but after seeing the devastating conditions of the fistula patients, they began to create an incredible hospital solely to treat these resilient women.

“Mourning the stillbirth of their only child, incontinent of urine, ashamed of their offensiveness, often spurned by their husbands, homeless, unemployable, except in the fields, they endure, they exist, without friends and without hope. They bear their sorrows in silent shame. Their miseries, untreated are utter, lonely and lifelong.” – Dr Reginald Hamlin

Since establishing the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, the Hamlins have treated over 40,000 women with a success rate of over 90%. Even though the work conducted was by both Dr Reginal Hamlin and Dr Catherine Hamlin, I want to focus this post on the woman who has been rightfully described as the modern day Mother Teresa.

International Women’s Day is very important. Because it helps us identify remarkable women who have worked to better the lives of others. The story of Catherine, which she eloquently transcribed into a book (The Hospital by the River – it is such a good read and I cannot recommend it enough!) is a perfect example of the resilience of women and the remarkable suffering many women still suffer from across the globe.

At the age of 94, Catherine is still looking after her fistula patients. Every page I turned in her book and the more I learned about her story made me fill with inspiration as she symbolises everything I aspire to be.

Obstetrician and Gynaecologist




Learning about her journey of serving others has definitely motivated me to keep striving for my end goal of setting up a clinic in a developing country. Call it Christian guilt but something I am humbled to share with Dr Hamlin is her desire to achieve her true purpose laid out by God by dedicating her life to others to the best of her ability.

The journey was not easy for the Hamlins as they struggled initially with donations. Back then the widely thought solution to the problems in developing countries was to introduce birth control and/or sterilise women after presenting with problems such as these. Unfortunately, that is still the views held by some people but I think that has a lot to do with cultural ignorance.

The moral of this post is that you should all read The Hospital by the River: A Story of Hope by Dr Catherine Hamlin because what I have said here has not served justice to the incredible work conducted by the Hamlins and the Ethiopian women working in the fistula hospital.

P.S. My project supervisor has apparently spent some time working in the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital which is pretty incredible!


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