Dr Catherine Hamlin – Another Australian Heroine

I felt I had to write about this remarkable Australian doctor who has devoted her life’s work to treating women suffering from obstetric fistula, in Ethiopia.


Dr Catherine Hamlin


Dr Catherine HamlinAC, MBBS, FRCS, FRANZCOG, FRCOG, is an Australian obstetrician and gynaecologist who, with her late husband Dr Reg Hamlin, co-founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, the world’s only medical centre dedicated exclusively to providing free obstetric fistula repair surgery.

Dr Hamlin has been recognised by the United Nations agency UNFPA as a pioneer in fistula surgery, for which she developed specialist techniques and procedures. She, her husband, (a New Zealander) and the hospital’s medical staff, have treated more than 34,000 women.


See    Vesico Vaginal Fistula


Dr Hamlin, now in her late eighties, heads the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia. The surgical technique developed by the Dr Hamlin has a 93% cure rate for obstetric fistula cases. The Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital has established a purpose-built village called Desta Mender (Village of Joy) to provide long-term care for women whose condition is caused by giving birth at a very young age, and some sexual practises. The hospital is dedicated to improving health, reducing infant mortality and empowering women.

The Hamlin College of Midwives, set up by Dr Catherine Hamlin and Dr Reg Hamlin, trains young women as midwives to work in the Ethiopian countryside where there is presently no access to medical assistance during pregnancy and labour. The College’s mission is to have a midwife in every Ethiopian village.

The Hamlins’ long association with the College of Midwives began in 1958 when they answered an advertisement in the Lancet Medical Journal for an obstetrician and gynaecologist to establish a Midwifery School at the Princess Tsehay Hospital in Addis Ababa. They arrived in 1959 on a three-year contract with the Ethiopian Government but only about 10 midwives had been trained when the Government closed the midwifery school. The Hamlins went on to establish the College and fifteen years later they founded Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.

Catherine Hamlin lives in her cottage on the grounds of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital as she has done for over thirty-five years. She is still very active in the work of the Hospital and operates every Thursday morning as well as running a clinic. Her son, Richard Hamlin is involved in the activities of the Hospital and sits on its Board of Trustees.

There is currently a dispute between three members of the Board of Trustees including the chair, and Dr Catherine Hamlin, regarding the direction the hospital is taking. Dr Hamlin has withdrawn support for her Australian fundraising trust over the religious dispute that threatens her charitable medical work in Ethiopia.  The board had moved to take a hardline Christian approach. As a result of the dispute, the board has halted all fund-raising in Australia.  Dr Hamlin believes the board was attempting to take control of the management of the hospital against her will.


Bernadette Lack


Bernadette Lack is a young Australian midwife who is running the Great Ocean Road marathon from Lorne to Apollo Bay; a gruelling 45km.  She is raising funds for the Hamlin College of Midwives, an organisation she is passionate about.  The College and Hospital rely heavily on funding from overseas.  When Ms Lack was informed that Hamlin Fistula Australia wouldn’t  accept her donation because the board was in disarray, she contacted Lucy Perry, official spokesperson for Dr Hamlin in Australia. Ms Lack has been assured by Ms Perry that the funds she raises in the marathon will be sent directly to Ethiopia.

Both Dr Hamlin and her hospital are the recipients of numerous awards. Dr Hamlin, known for her dedication and humility, says of the plaudits she has received ‘I’m doing what I love doing and it’s not a hardship for me to be working in Ethiopia with these women’.

1 comment
  1. chris. said:

    i have been in awe of Dr Hamlin,s work and as a nurse it would be my dream to work over there. the documentary i have seen. I haVE NEVER forgotten.. The women are amazing. well done to Dr Hamlin for her strength passiion and love of these women and the gift she gives to them.


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