Pioneering Surgeon and Obstetrician

Dr. Catherine Hamlin AC (b. 1924) was educated at Frensham School before studying medicine at the University of Sydney, from which she graduated in 1946. Working at Crown Street Women’s Hospital in the late 1940s, she met fellow doctor Reginald Hamlin; they married in 1950. Eight years later, Catherine and Reg Hamlin travelled to Ethiopia after answering an advertisement in the Lancet calling for doctors. On the evening of their arrival, a fellow gynaecologist told them, “The fistula patients will break your hearts.” And indeed they did. They had never seen an obstetric fistula case before – a horrific and preventable childbirth injury – and there was little or no treatment available in Ethiopia.

Catherine and Reg Hamlin pioneered the surgical technique to repair fistulae, and in 1974 they opened the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital dedicated to treating this injury. Since her husband’s death in 1993, Catherine Hamlin has continued and expanded the work of the hospital, lobbying and travelling extensively to raise funds so that all patients can receive free treatment.

2019 marks 60 years since Drs Catherine and Reg Hamlin first arrived in Ethiopia. Today, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is a healthcare network of over 550 Ethiopian staff servicing six fistula hospitals, a rehabilitation centre and the Hamlin College of Midwives – deploying midwives into remote areas to prevent the injury in the first place. To date, over 60,000 women have had their lives restored. In January of this year, Catherine also celebrated her 95th birthday, a true milestone. It’s remarkable that for 60 of her 95 years, Catherine has been completely committed to transforming the lives of some of the most vulnerable women in the world. These women really are her life story.

Catherine has received numerous honours for her humanitarian work, including being twice-nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Catherine Hamlin still lives in a small cottage on the grounds of the main hospital in Addis Ababa. Her work is funded entirely by generous supporters around the world. Her dream is to eradicate fistula – forever. To find out more about Dr Catherine Hamlin’s life’s work visit hamlin.org.au