Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hamlin Fistula Hospital - Restoring Dignity To Women In Ethopia

Imagine at three years old learning to carry loads of water on your head. Each year you grow stronger and the load grows heavier. Imagine only having enough food to survive and even though it's nutritious food it's not enough to make up for the hard work your body is doing. There is no energy left over to help your body grow. Imagine that your growth is stunted because of these conditions.

Now, imagine that you live in a village where young girls are married off between the ages of eight and eleven and that by the time you are thirteen you are pregnant. Your little body is not prepared for the process of birth. Imagine that you labor for days with no medical help. Luckily your baby survives but you are left with an obstetric fistula - a hole between your birth canal and other internal organs that resulted from the prolonged obstructed labor.

The hole causes you to leak urine or feces. Imagine that you are shunned by your husband and everyone you know because of your inability to work and the foul odor you can't control. Imagine you are left to live in an isolated hut all alone or worse thrown out of your village for good. This is the life of over 100,000 young women in Ethiopia. The rate has historically grown by another 9,000 new cases each year. Without surgery there is no cure or hope for a better life.

This is where the Hamlin Fistula Hospital steps into the picture. If a woman can get to the hospital, a doctor and staff will treat and care for her for free. They will surgically repair the damage to her body, help her heal physically and mentally, and when she is ready give her help to return to her home village.

Since 1959 Dr. Catherine Hamlin has been a pioneer in the treatment of obstetric fistula. She and her husband Dr. Reginald Hamlin opened a hospital in Addis Ababa in 1974, the first of it's kind in the world dedicated to helping the thousands of victims who'd suffered in silence for so many years. Catherine Hamlin, now 84 years old, has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, and the list of her humanitarian awards is impressive. She continues to oversee the work of the hospital and can frequently be found in the operating room performing the delicate fistula repair surgery she pioneered more than 40 years ago.

A film has been made that follows the journeys of five women as they travel to the hospital for help. A Walk To Beautiful was named Best Feature Length Documentary of 2007 by the International Documentary Association. I was lucky enough to catch the broadcast premier on NOVA and was deeply touched.

The hospital operates solely on donations and grants. If you'd like to help you can become part of the Love-a-Sister program, the donation is $37.50 a month and the yearly total of $450.00 pays the entire cost for one woman's surgery. You will have the satisfaction of knowing you have truly changed a life in a significant way.


Anonymous said...

I heard this story about the Hamlins and their hospital on National Public Radio (I believe it was the Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC). I was distraught listening to the unbelievable suffering of these young women. The Hamlins are doing incredible work, for a cause too few people are aware of.

Many thanks for this important post.


Lisa McGlaun said...


I first saw this story on Oprah a few years back but when I saw the documentary on NOVA the other night it really touched me.

Like you said, these young women go through so much, and many have stillborn babies, so much pain and loss in a young life. I'm glad there are people who can help them.

Best Wishes and thanks for the comment,