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.
The Hamlin Fistula Hospital: treating and preventing obstetric fistula
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.
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.
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