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Journey to Hope: Ayana's story

Ayana is one of the 24 patients found in the initial phase of Hamlin's Patient Identification Program. Her story is one of resilience through tragedy - and her journey to finding hope.

The pain of fistula

Ayana grew up in rural Southern Ethiopia, in a remote village where access to infrastructure is limited. In the 1950s Ayana was pregnant with her second child. Having already given birth to a healthy son, Ayana did not expect anything to go wrong with her second pregnancy; unfortunately, Ayana experienced an obstructed labor. Without a trained midwife by her side, Ayana suffered for five agonizing days until she eventually delivered a stillborn baby.

Beyond the sorrow of losing her baby, Ayana also suffered a fistula injury. The leaking from her fistula started immediately after the birth. Unaware of the nature of her injury, Ayana was told by elders that the injury would repair itself after a few days. In reality, Ayana would suffer from her fistula injury for six decades.

When the leaking failed to stop, Ayana began to withdraw from everyone in her village; she lived alone with the debilitating pain of fistula for 60 grueling years. Ayana thought that her problem was a curse and was untreatable. It was not until she was approached by Workee, a Hamlin-trained health worker, that Ayana learnt of a solution to her nightmare and began her journey to hope.

Rekindling hope

Ayana was one of the first women identified in Hamlin's Patient Identification Program. As part of the program, Workee, the health officer who found Ayana, received specific training from Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia; this training helped Workee and other health officers identify fistula patients, talk to the women with empathy and sensitivity, and offer counseling to them.

Ayana was taken to Hamlin's Yirgalem Fistula Hospital. When she arrived she was severely malnourished, weighing only 32 kilograms. After a comprehensive health-check in line with the Hamlin Model of Care's holistic approach. Ayana was given pre-operative physiotherapy sessions in preparation for her fistula repair surgery.

Ayana 2 1500x1000 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation | Together we can eradicate obstetric fistula in Ethiopia.

In March of this year, Ayana underwent life-changing fistula repair surgery. While the operation treated her fistula injury, the Hamlin Model of Care supported her to thrive post-surgery. Hamlin's total and compassionate care includes counseling, physiotherapy, good nutrition and education to help women like Ayana make a full recovery - physically and emotionally.

Reaching every woman

Like Ayana, too many women suffering the debilitation of fistula are ignored and ostracized by their communities. Like Ayana, too many fistula sufferers are unaware that there is a cure for their condition. Like Ayana, too many women in remote and regional Ethiopia are too poor to access the healthcare they so desperately need. This is why the Hamlin team launched the Patient Identification Program: to find and treat women who have suffered from fistula for so long.

Hamlin's Patient Identification Program commenced in February this year and identified districts across Ethiopia where women are likely living with untreated fistula injuries - remote areas where access to healthcare is limited and roads are restricted or non-existent. Many women have to walk for days to reach the nearest medical center.

Ayana 1 1500x1000 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation | Together we can eradicate obstetric fistula in Ethiopia.

The first phase of the program identified 24 fistula patients, including Ayana and Tita, and provided care for them at Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital and the Yirgalem Fistula Hospital. The second phase of the program will train local health officers in four targeted areas where the Patient Identification Program will next roll out. As part of the program, Hamlin has already trained 569 health professionals and community health officers from relevant regions.

Will you help us find and treat the forgotten women suffering from fistula? Click here to make a donation today, and help women begin their own journey to hope.


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All rights reserved 2023 Catherine Hamlin Foundation (R) (ABN58159647499)
Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation is fiscally sponsored by KBFUS (EIN582277856) and KBF Canada (RCO769784893RR0001)

Photography credits to Cameron Bloom, Nigel Brennan, Mary F. Calvert, Kate Geraghty, Amber Hooper, Joni Kabana, Johannes Remling and Martha Tadesse.

Patient names have been changed to protect the identities of those we help.