The Hamlin Trust NZ was set up to support an ongoing project to assist women in Ethiopia who suffer from horrific birth injuries. The Trust takes its name from Reg and Catherine Hamlin, who established a special hospital in Addis Ababa to treat women with a fistula. Together they pioneered fistula surgery in Ethiopia, making it their life’s work. Dr Reg Hamlin died in 1993, but Dr Catherine Hamlin, now in her eighties, has continued her active involvement.
Fistula is the medical term for a particular birth injury - a hole in the bladder or bowel - which is the result of a still birth following prolonged obstructed labour. The fistula results in incontinence from bowel or bladder (or sometimes from both). The consequences for the women are horrendous; they are often abandoned by their husbands and forced to live in huts at some distance from their families. The shame of their condition and the lack of any hope of living a normal life lead many to despair.
The miracle of fistula surgery, in restoring the bodily functions, brings joy and hope, and the prospect of remarriage and bearing a live child. Dr Catherine Hamlin’s book, “The Hospital by the River”, carries the very appropriate subtitle, “A Story of Hope.”
Whilst the hospital in Addis Ababa remains the centre of the work, outreach hospitals have been established in other parts of the country to provide better access for rural women. A special community has been established for the minority of women whose injuries are so severe that they cannot be cured. Most importantly, midwives are now being trained who will live and work in rural villages to provide the sort of pre-natal care that eradicated the fistula problem in New Zealand about 100 years ago.
After surgery...a new life of hope and dignity
The Hamlin Trust NZ is committed to providing ongoing support for fistula surgery and for the preventive work of the midwives. Despite the progress made, many thousands of women still live lives of misery without treatment, not just in Ethiopia, but in other developing countries. The hospital in Addis Ababa has become a centre of excellence to which doctors from other countries come to develop the specialist skills of fistula surgery.
Although most of the staff who work at the fistula hospitals are committed Christians, there has always been an open door to Muslims, who form a majority in parts of Ethiopia and the neighbouring countries.