The Hamlin Fistula Relief and Aid Fund

What they do

The Hamlin Fistula Relief and Aid Fund operates the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital located in Ethiopia. This is the only hospital in the world that specializes in fistula surgery.

A fistula is a tear in a woman’s bladder caused by an obstructed labor during childbirth. In developed countries, the obstructed childbirth can be successfully carried out with medical assistance or by caesarean section. However, in many developing countries such as Ethiopia, people live in remote and often inaccessible areas. Prenatal care is limited and if problems occur during labor, hospital assistance is almost impossible. As such, a mother with a small or malformed pelvis or a badly positioned child may be in labor for five or more days without help.

As a result of the prolonged and obstructed labor, the woman’s bladder can be torn, creating a fistula. When a fistula occurs, the woman is unable to control the flow of urine. Because of the objectionable smell associated with this, the women are typically rejected by their husbands and families and become social outcasts from their village community. Women sufferers have a deep sense of shame.

The Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital was established to treat these women. The Hospital operates free of charge on over 1,200 impoverished Ethiopian women each year with a success rate of 93%. Over 20,000 women have been cured of this debilitating injury since the hospital opened. Most of the women have been able to return to a normal lifestyle with restored dignity.

The hospital is also recognized internationally as a training center for fistula surgery. It regularly trains doctors from other developing countries in this surgical specialty so that they can return to their home countries and deal with this significant problem.

What we funded

Although the vast majority of women treated by surgery are able to return to a normal lifestyle, there are some who suffer from on-going chronic problems from fistula damage. It is difficult if not impossible for these women to return to their communities in this condition. To assist these women who have on-going difficulties resulting from bladder damage, the Hospital has constructed a rural village where chronically ill patients can be treated.

In addition to providing a community of support for chronic sufferers, the rural village emphasizes self-help among the patients by training them in agriculture and crafts. The goal is to engender self-sufficiency skills, even though the women must deal with the on-going symptoms of fistula damage.

In 2006, the Hospital undertook to expand its reach into rural Ethiopia with the construction of satellite clinics in five regions encircling Addis Ababa. The Foundation, in concert with its Australian partners, supported the establishment of the second of these clinics, briefly described in this excerpted report from Dr. Melaku Abriha, who is resident at the clinic:

“The Hamlin Fistula Centre at Mekelle, built with funds provided by Australian donors, is in Tigray, the northernmost regional state of Ethiopia.

Tigray covers 54,600 square kilometres. The total population is 4.1 million with nearly a quarter being women between 15 and 49 years of age. It is estimated there are about 184,000 pregnancies each year in Tigray. Obstetric fistulas occur in about 1.6% of cases which is well above the estimated national average of 1%.

The region has one obstetrician for every one million people, and one midwife per 33,713 people, compared to the WHO standard for midwives of 1:5,000.

The Centre has 28 beds, and 26 happy staff. Since opening in February 2006, it has attended to over 500 patients.

We have hired a health officer whose primary responsibility is finding hidden fistula patients and promoting health education to prevent fistulas occurring. Our centre works with the regional health bureau, international and local NGOs in the prevention of obstetric fistulas, averting maternal morbidities and reducing maternal mortality.”

More information about the Hamlin Fistula Hospital is available through the website maintained by the hospital’s Australian trust  and at the website maintained by the hospital’s US based public charity.