We learned the sad news that the wonderful Dr Catherine Hamlin died peacefully at home in Addis Ababa on Wednesday 18 March. She was 96 years old.
Born on 24th January 1924, in Sydney Australia to Elinor and Theodore Nicholson, Catherine attended Frensham School in Mittagong, before enrolling at Medical School at the University of Sydney – from which she graduated in 1946.
After internships at St Joseph’s Hospital, Auburn, and St George’s Hospital, Kogarah, Catherine became a resident in obstetrics at Crown Street Women’s Hospital. In 1950, she married Dr Reginald Hamlin, the medical superintendent at Crown Street.
In 1953 Catherine and Reg welcomed a son Richard, and six years later the Hamlins moved to Addis Ababa – having replied to an advert placed by the Ethiopian government in The Lancet medical journal. They were looking for an obstetrician and gynaecologist to establish a midwifery school at the Princess Tsehai Hospital in Addis.
The couple had never seen a case of obstetric fistula before their arrival in Ethiopia and were deeply moved by the patients they met – realising just how little treatment had been made previously available to them and how lonely and isolated these women felt. The women arrive dressed in rags, leaking bodily fluids and smelling bad – their spirits broken from the trauma of losing babies and hope for the future lost.
Catherine said: “These women have suffered more than any woman should be called upon to endure. To meet only one is to be profoundly moved and calls forth the utmost compassion that the human heart is capable of feeling.”
As the Hamlins continued their work at the Princess Tsehai Hospital, they began to refine their surgical techniques to close obstetric fistula injuries – alongside treating other obstetric cases. After three years, driven by their faith and their passion to help these women, the two surgeons had operated on over 300 fistula patients. Soon, people began to hear that a cure was possible, and many more patients arrived at the hospital seeking treatment.
In 1974, after years of raising money, research and perfecting their approach to fistula cases Catherine and Reg built a dedicated fistula hospital: the only one of its kind at the time with this specific focus.
Reg sadly passed away in 1993, and Catherine – with the support of her team at the hospital – remained fiercely determined to continue their important work as part of his (and her) legacy.
Today, the Hamlin Fistula Hospital represents a training centre of excellence for fistula surgeons and has successfully treated tens of thousands of women living with the birth injury – giving them back dignity, health and happiness.
Catherine and Reg’s hard work and dedication to the women of Ethiopia has been well-recognised internationally. Catherine was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 and 2014 and won the 1971 Haile Selassie Humanitarian Prize – this, among many other accolades and nominations.
Dr Hamlin will be deeply missed by all who knew and loved her. Ethiopiaid is proud to have supported her work and we are committed to ensuring that her legacy continues.
If you would like to help us continue Dr Hamlin’s legacy, please make a gift here.
Photos taken by Joni Kabana and David Goldman