Transforming lives in Ethiopia

Remembering Dr Catherine Hamlin

Reading time: 2 min

Remembering Dr Catherine Hamlin on what would have been her 100th birthday.

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.

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.

Maternal healthcare in Ethiopia

In 1959 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. They realised just how little treatment had been made previously available to them and how lonely and isolated these women felt. Not only had they been living with the physical symptoms and incontinence caused by their injuries but also the mental trauma caused as a result.

Catherine and Reg Hamlin

“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.” 

The Hamlin Fistula Hospital: treating and preventing obstetric fistula

Image: hamlin.org.au
Catherine and Mamitu, a former patient who went on to train as fistula surgeon. They remained close friends.

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. 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 and research Catherine and Reg built a dedicated fistula hospital: the only one of its kind at the time with this specific focus.  

Dr Hamlin's legacy

Today, the Hamlin Fistula Hospitals and Hamlin College of Midwives continue Dr Hamlin’s legacy, working to treat women with obstetric fistula injuries, and training midwives to ensure safe births across Ethiopia.

“Midwifery I believe is the answer – to put a well-trained midwife in every village of Ethiopia would soon eradicate obstetric fistula.”

Catherine’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. 

Ethiopiaid is proud to have supported her work, and the work of all our maternal health partners across Ethiopia. We believe that every woman should be able access the care they need to give birth safely. 

Donate to ensure no woman has to endure obstetric fistula:

£25
£
£200
£

Related stories

Women & girls

Child marriage: Haalima’s Story

Haalima was only 15 years old when her parents told her she had to marry a man she’d never met — a man who was almost 20 years her senior.

International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM

On International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, Valerie Browning, Co-Founder and Program Director of our project partner, Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA),

Select your country

Australian flag in a circle shape

Australia

Canadian flag in a circle shape

Canada

Irish flag in a circle shape

Ireland

UK flag in a circle shape

UK