Over the past year, I've spoken to hundreds of women about the issues that other women face in the developing world. One of the most common problems these women face is fistula -- but few American women seem to be familiar with it. That's because we have relatively good maternal health care. There's one woman who has become the face of fistula, so to speak: Dr. Catherine Hamlin. If you don't know about her, you need to become acquainted. Fortunately, Her.meneutics, the Christianity Today blog for women, posted about her today. Here's an excerpt from what Elissa Cooper wrote:
Vesicovaginal fistulas (VVFs) and the people who champion their eradication are fascinating. For Dr. L. Lewis Wall’s Christianity Today piece “Jesus and the Unclean Woman,” I spent a lot of time learning about VVFs for the accompanying news article, and enjoyed a refresher course for documentary review of A Walk to Beautiful for Her.meneutics. But I finally got to the heart of the story when I met Dr. Catherine Hamlin last month.
The world knows Hamlin’s name. The Australian obstetrician-gynecologist has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof dubbed her “the Mother Teresa of our age,” and Oprah has featured her story. However, Hamlin’s most striking quality is her Christian faith. It has driven her life’s work in healing women withVVFs in Ethiopia and her goal to end VVF worldwide by the end of the century. During her trip to launch Hamlin FistulaUSA — the newest member of Hamlin Fistula International — 87-year-old Hamlin sat down with me to talk.
Hamlin and her late husband, Reginald, also an obstetrician-gynecologist, were initially hired to work at an Ethiopian government hospital in 1959. “I believe God put us there. We came across these patients soon after we got there. They touched our hearts so much we stayed working with them.”
However, they soon found themselves overwhelmed by VVF patients. VVFs are holes or tears that occur during labor where the baby cannot be delivered without intervention, such as a cesarean section. The child usually dies, and the women are incontinent and become outcasts because of their condition. It is unknown how many women suffer from VVF as it usually strikes those in poor, rural areas, but one estimate puts the figure at 3 million women worldwide.
Fortunately, VVFs can be repaired with a simple surgery, and over the decades, the Hamlins have cured thousands of women. In 1974, the Hamlins founded Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia with the sole aim to treat VVF. Catherine still lives and works there as she performs surgeries one day a week, helps manage the hospital, and visits with patients. “I’m usually occupied all day with something,” Hamlin says. “I lie down after lunch for a bit of a rest, since I’ve gotten old.”
Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital is not a mission hospital or affiliated with a particular denomination, but the Hamlins’ faith defines it. The staff begins the day with a prayer meeting, and recordings of Scripture readings and messages are available in at least 25 languages for the women to listen to on headphones as they recover. Many patients have become Christians.
As the second fistula hospital in the world (the first ran in New York from 1855 to 1928 whenVVFs became obsolete in the U.S.), Addis Ababa depends on donations to provide free surgery and care for these women. Organizations give financial support to run the hospital and provide each woman with a new dress, a bus ticket home, and, if they would like one, a Bible. Hamlin Fistula International also raised money to launch five regional hospitals in Ethiopia that serve 3,000 patients a year and hopes to treat 4,000 annually. In order to prevent VVFs, another project involves training midwives to serve in rural areas and supporting them in their work.
“Most of the midwives in Ethiopia are congregated in the big city, Addis Ababa,” Hamlin says. “But our midwives are committed to work in the countryside, and they’re happy to work back in their own areas.” One of their first trained midwives returned home to find her sister was in labor, and she was able to deliver the child.
Read the rest of the post on Her.meneutics.