Surgeon Dr Catherine Hamlin pioneered a complete treatment for women suffering obstetric fistulas. Surgical repair, rehabilitation, counseling and reintegration all form the elements of what has been recognised as world-best practice in preoperative and postoperative fistula care.
The Hamlin Model of Care is grounded in a fundamental respect for women who suffer this condition and a commitment to provide complete and compassionate care.
Upon arrival at a Hamlin hospital, patients are embraced with tender and loving care. They are given nutritious food, a handmade woven blanket, and clean clothing. A customised program is made for each woman that includes nutrition, physical therapy, counselling and rehabilitation.
Due to the stigma associated with obstetric fistula, many women cannot return to their communities and few have an income that allows them to live independently. That’s why Dr Hamlin founded Desta Mender (‘Joy Village’) in 2002 as a recovery centre where long-term fistula patients with severe injuries can continue to heal.
After 60 years the Hamlin Model of Care remains a core part of the organisation today. It is a culture instilled across the work of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia. Many of our 550 staff worked alongside Catherine over many years, even decades, and were greatly inspired by her passion and professionalism. In fact, many are also former fistula patients themselves.
The result is clinical excellence that does not compromise on treating every woman with compassion and dignity. Discover below the Hamlin Model of Care: a meticulous 4-step process to treating fistula.
What makes up the Hamlin Model of Care?
Many women living with fistula in Ethiopia don’t know help is available. Hamlin’s ambitious Patient Identification Outreach Program is focused on finding these women through media campaigns and going door-to-door, educating the community and linking them to life-changing treatment at one of six Hamlin hospitals.
A single, two-hour operation can often repair an obstetric fistula injury and change a woman’s life. But many women who have suffered for years require more complex surgery and rehabilitation due to complications like scar tissue, long-term infection and renal damage. The Hamlin surgical technique and the Clinical Team’s approach is considered best-practice fistula treatment globally.
Clothing and a Hamlin blanket
A woman’s healing starts as soon as she arrives at a Hamlin hospital. She receives a colorful hand- knitted blanket, symbolizing her life being woven back together. She is also given a nightgown and slippers to wear during her stay. On the day she leaves, she is presented with a new dress to celebrate her return home.
Good nutrition is an essential part of healing. Many women with fistula are malnourished as they spend their lives hidden and in isolation. Patients at Hamlin hospitals receive healthy, nutritious meals during their stay to build up their strength and encourage faster recovery.
An arduous labor can cause nerve damage, while long periods of immobility can result in muscle contractures – conditions most women with fistula injuries experience. All Hamlin patients receive a tailored physiotherapy program before and after fistula repair surgery to make sure they regain full function in their muscles.
Women’s empowerment program
Hamlin’s Women’s Empowerment Program gives fistula patients in need of income support vital vocational skills at Desta Mender. This groundbreaking initiative trains 245 women every year, offering a range of opportunities, including leadership and communications training, as well as small-business guidance. These life-changing skills give women choices and independence – empowering their communities and those around them.
Many women lose everything due to the devastating impact of their fistula injuries. They’re also often ostracised from their communities. Hamlin supports women with reintegration into their communities and independent living by helping them find sustainable employment or start their own businesses. This support is critical to equipping women to live with dignity.
The Hamlin Model of Care places great emphasis on empowering women to take control of their lives. During their stay at a Hamlin hospital, women can develop their numeracy and literacy skills and receive vocational and life skills training, empowering them to return to their community with confidence and the ability to earn an income.
The emotional trauma of fistula can often be more scarring than the physical injury. Healing the psychological scars and building confidence is a key part of rehabilitation. Women receive compassionate support to help them regain their sense of self, often after living in shame and isolation for years.