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Ethiopia Nominates Doctor Operating Fistula Clinic for Nobel Peace Prize

  • Marthe van der Wolf

FILE - Mafron Ejigayehu (L) receives the Right Livelihood Award widely known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, on behalf of Catherine Hamlin of Ethiopia, from the founder of the prize journalist and professional philatelist Jakob von Uexkull at a ceremony i

FILE - Mafron Ejigayehu (L) receives the Right Livelihood Award widely known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, on behalf of Catherine Hamlin of Ethiopia, from the founder of the prize journalist and professional philatelist Jakob von Uexkull at a ceremony i

The Ethiopian government has nominated 90-year-old Dr. Catherine Hamlin for this year's Nobel Peace Prize. The doctor has been running a fistula clinic for 40 years.

On a beautiful compound hidden in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, you can find the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.

Fistula is an abnormal connection between an organ, vessel or intestine and another part of the body.

The fistula hospital was established by Australian doctor Catherine Hamlin and her late husband in 1974.

Unlike other hospitals

Unlike many other hospitals, this one is not overcrowded and the facility is very well maintained. There are a total of 147 beds. In one of the rooms lies 35-year-old Rahima from Arsi, a southwestern part of Ethiopia.

Rahima gave birth to a baby three months ago, but labor complications led to fistula.

She says that due to the labor problems she would leak urine. It wasn’t that much in the beginning, but she was ashamed and tried hiding it by staying at home for weeks. She says that when the flow increased she went to her local hospital and was told to be treated in Addis Ababa.

Rahima is not the only fistula patient.

Poor access to health facilities leaves 1 in 16 women in Africa with fistula and other serious risks during pregnancy or childbirth, especially those living in rural areas. Fistula is caused due to prolonged and obstructed labor.

It leaves women incontinent and without having control over their bladders. Urine can flow continuously and because of this; many women are isolated and rejected from their communities.

Midwife training

Australian doctor Catherine Hamlin and her husband came to Ethiopia in 1959 to train midwifes. They were faced with the fistula problem and noticed the lack of knowledge and treatment for this injury.

The Hamlins developed and improved treatment technologies to help Ethiopian women. Their work has now resulted in a nomination for this years’ Nobel Peace Prize.

According to hospital director Martin Andrews, Dr. Hamlin’s humble personality makes her not want to seek attention for herself. Andrews says that she is delighted with the recognition and hopes the nomination will create more awareness:

“Her biggest concern is the lack of health professionals in rural Ethiopia. And anything that will raise awareness to that problem and trying to bring a solution for that problem is what would really help,” said Andrews.

Besides having set up five fistula clinics in Ethiopia, the Hamlin doctors have treated over 40,000 women and trained many nurses.

Nurse Tenadew Bekele was selected in nursing school to come work at the fistula hospital and has been working there for 26 years. She says that Dr. Hamlin has been a great teacher and mentor for her:

“Anyone can learn form her just by observing, just by following her, by what she is doing. Her activity expresses what she wants to tell for other people to do for the others. So that’s the way of her teaching,” said Bekele.

While fistula was eradicated in the industrialized world in the 1920’s, many developing countries still have thousands of women suffering from fistula.

Hamlins' practice

The Hamlin way of treating fistula is now being practiced all over the developing world. Every year the hospital brings doctors from the developing world to Ethiopia to teach them about fistula treatments.

The costs are mostly funded by private donations. But the hospital is free of charge for the patients. Fistula patient 30-year-old Amarech says she is happy with the care she has been receiving in the hospital.

She says that if this hospital weren’t here, her only choice would have been to stay home until she would die.

The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize will be announced Friday.

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