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A tale of 50 years of devotion.

ON A MISSION: Dr Catherine Hamlin has so far helped treat over 40,000 fistula patients in 50 years of her service. Umer Nangiana

Creating awareness about the problem of obstetric fistula in women, an upcoming presentation will narrate the story of one Australian doctor who has dedicated her life helping women in an East African country suffering from the problem.

In more than 50 years of her service in Ethiopia, Australian doctor Catherine Hamlin has so far helped and treated over 40,000 women through her hospital, besides training medical help to handle the issue.

An Australian entrepreneur and photographer, Kimberly Sheedy met Dr Hamlin in Ethiopia about a decade ago during one of her photography exhibition and was inspired by her dedicated work.

Through her moving presentation on the Hamlin's work and life, she is now creating awareness about and helping the veteran Australian doctor's mission. Sheedy is coming to Doha with one such presentation on September 26 at Warwick Doha, organised by the Qatar Expat Women (QEW).

'An Ethiopian Journey' is a tale of her travels to Ethiopia. Sheedy has for many years travelled to Ethiopia to work alongside her mentor fellow Australian Dr Catherine Hamlin in her Addis Ababa Hospital set up to treat some of the poorest women in the world.

Dr Hamlin is 92 years old and has dedicated her life to her beloved Ethiopia. She has been working tirelessly since 1958 to help women affected by obstetric fistula.

The condition, which occurs in women who experience prolonged, obstructed labour and causes them to become incontinent, saw women being abandoned by their husbands and rejected by their communities.

After treating local women, the Hamlins set up the Addis Ababa Hamlin Fistula Hospital, which has helped treat over 40,000 patients for free, as well as a midwifery college and clinics in rural areas.

Catherine and Reg Hamlin travelled to Ethiopia for the first time over 50 years ago, and initially only planned to stay for three years. On the evening of their arrival in Ethiopia, a fellow gynaecologist told them, "The fistula patients will break your hearts."

The Hamlins had never seen an obstetric fistula case before and there was little or no treatment available in Ethiopia. But, they did something about it.

"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," says Dr Hamlin.

"We knew she was more in need than any of the others. She had been through a long labour of five days with only the village women to help. And so we saw the first of many fistula sufferers," she adds.

Catherine and Reg Hamlin refused to turn their backs on the women of Ethiopia. These two surgical pioneers remained in Ethiopia following their initial three-year posting to continue treating the most marginalised women.

These women suffered an obstetric fistula, an internal injury caused by an obstructed childbirth, which leaves them incontinent, humiliated and lingering with a horrible odour, causing social isolation and shame.

The two doctors went about dramatically transforming the maternal healthcare landscape for the women of Ethiopia.

"My dream is to eradicate obstetric fistula from Ethiopia. I won't do this in my lifetime, but you can in yours," says the 92-year-old pioneer.

One of the worst things that can happen to a woman or girl is an obstetric fistula, says the doctor. More 93% of obstetric fistula survivors give birth to a stillborn baby.

The physical consequences of a childbirth injury are devastating and debilitating. More than that, the unfortunate injury causes them social isolation, stigma and loss of dignity that leaves the most damaging scars.

Because of the shame associated with their injury, these women are isolated and pushed to the edge of their society, forgotten and invisible.

"These women are the lepers of the 21st century, and although the condition is almost entirely preventable, it is still a huge public health issue in Ethiopia," says Dr Hamlin.

Survivors, often voiceless and marginalised, tend to live in impoverished countries, with the common thread of being poor, rural and female.

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Publication:Gulf Times (Doha, Qatar)
Geographic Code:6ETHI
Date:Sep 20, 2016
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