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Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Safe Haven for Fistula Survivors in Ethiopia

For more than 30 years, the Hamlin Hospital in Ethiopia, formerly the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, has provided free surgical repair procedures for tens of thousands of women living with obstetric fistula.

On February 10, the hospital’s cofounder, Dr. Catherine Hamlin, and CEO Marc Bennett visited EngenderHealth’s headquarters in New York to present the history and philosophy behind this singular institution. They met with EngenderHealth’s Fistula Care team to discuss collaboration on improving fistula treatment and prevention in Ethiopia. With support from USAID, Fistula Care works there to prevent fistula and provide Ethiopian women with pre-hospitalization care, postoperative care, and referral to three regional centers of the Hamlin Hospital.

In his presentation, “Moving From Treatment to Prevention,” Bennett offered a glimpse into the half century of fistula care in Ethiopia that has developed under the joint vision of Dr. Hamlin and her late husband, Reginald. Although the couple first traveled to Ethiopia in 1959 with the intent of training midwives, they were moved by the plight of fistula survivors and refocused their work on treating and rehabilitating Ethiopian women with fistula and preventing fistula from occurring during childbirth.

A specialized hospital

By 1974, the couple had established the Hamlin Hospital. Today, that hospital and the five regional hospitals they have also established, offer free fistula repair for more than 2,500 women each year. To date, more than 30,000 women have been treated, with a success rate exceeding 90%. The hospital also provides rehabilitation services to help women reintegrate into society.

“Dr. Hamlin’s vision and commitment to Ethiopian women is truly inspiring,” said Karen Beattie, director of the EngenderHealth-led Fistula Care project. “Sharing the successes and challenges of Hamlin Fistula International, together with Fistula Care, is vital for advancing the field of fistula treatment and prevention.”

Elsewhere, the Fistula Care project and others are supporting an integrated approach to fistula treatment and prevention by enhancing existing facilities, training local surgeons and health workers to provide quality care, increasing timely access to medical care, and engaging communities to change social norms and encourage families and expectant mothers to seek skilled care during pregnancy and labor.