Dr Catherine Hamlin AC: A life of dedication
21 March 2005
Dr Catherine Hamlin was awarded the degree Doctor of Medicine honoris causa at the University of Sydney's Great Hall for her life's work at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, on Tuesday 15 March.
In Ethiopia thousands of women are treated as pariahs by their families and communities because of fistulas. University of Sydney medical graduate, Dr Hamlin, has restored hope to more than 20,000 women though her work.
Upon arrival in Addis Ababa in 1959, Dr Catherine Hamlin and her husband, Reginald, both obstetricians, became acutely aware of the plight of so many of Ethiopia's young women. In this poverty-stricken country where the lack of medical facilities, poor roads and inaccessible terrain, make it extremely difficult for expectant mothers to reach a hospital, thousands of women suffer agonising labours and the death of their babies and then, because of the fistulae, are ostracised by their families.
Fistulae, caused by obstructed labour, are tears between the bladder and the uterus. Women with fistulae are unable to control the flow of urine or faeces, and are often deserted by their husbands and outcast by their villages.
"One woman we found had spent nine years in a darkened hut, having her food being shoved in to her once or twice a day," said Dr Hamlin.
The Hamlins revived and perfected the long abandoned surgical technique for obstetric fistula, and worked for more than a decade to establish the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in 1975. Dr Reg Hamlin died 1993 but Catherine continues to work in Ethiopia.
"Never for a moment have I felt like retiring, or wanted to change my life or my work. I still operate several times a week, and my hands are as steady as ever. Although most of my life has been spent working for fistula patients, the fascination and appeal has never palled. People sometimes express surprise that I could be satisfied doing the same thing for so long, but the work has never been a burden or a chore," said Dr Hamlin.
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