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Celebrating International Day to End Obstetric Fistula - IDEOF 2021

As we mark International Day to End Obstetric Fistula (IDEOF), the team at Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation is reflecting on the state of obstetric fistula in Ethiopia and the progress made over the past 62 years to eradicate fistula. Forever.

Over 60,000 women have been successfully treated at Hamlin's Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital and its five regional fistula hospitals. Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is a multi-faceted network comprising six fistula hospitals; Desta Mender, Hamlin's Rehabilitation and Reintegration Centre; the Hamlin College of Midwives; 90 Hamlin-supported midwifery clinics; and a team of 550 Ethiopian staff all determined to end fistula.

Despite all the progress that has been made so far, there is much work still to be done in order to eradicate fistula. Every year, approximately 3,000 Ethiopian women suffer a fistula injury - in addition to the estimated 31,000 women whose fistula injuries have yet to be treated. Through patient identification and treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration, and fistula prevention, we are determined to eradicate fistula. Forever.

Click here to join the $7from7 movement and help transform the lives of 7 women suffering from fistula this International Day to End Obstetric Fistula.

What is obstetric fistula?

Obstetric fistula is a childbirth injury that occurs after a lengthy, and often unaided, obstructed labor. An obstetric fistula is a hole between a woman’s birth canal and urinary tract and/or rectum. It is a complex internal injury which comes as a result of a prolonged, unrelieved obstructed labor. In 93% cases, the baby is stillborn. On top of this heartbreak, the mother is left with uncontrollable incontinence of body waste.

As well as the devastating impact on the woman’s health, fistula also brings shame in her community, leading to segregation and isolation. Women with fistula are often ostracized from their communities, separated from their families and forced to live alone. Employment opportunities are extremely limited, either as a result of the debilitating nature of the fistula injury or from the social stigma of fistula. As a result, fistula patients are often hidden away, unaware or unable to access the medical attention they need.

Women's rights are human rights. End fistula now!

Everyone deserves a life lived with dignity. Dr Catherine Hamlin's steadfast belief that every woman matters shaped her 60 years of service and dedication in Ethiopia. It is an ethos that continues to frame everything the Hamlin Team does.

IDEOFImages2 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation (USA) | Working to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever.

The United Nations' Population Fund (UNFPA) designated 23rd May as the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula. This year, the UNFPA has set the theme of 'Women's rights are human rights. End fistula now!' for IDEOF 2021. Advocating for human rights requires a multi-faceted approach, which understands the unique barriers to a healthy, dignified life that women experience; one such barrier is fistula and inadequate maternal health care. Conversely, the work to eradicate fistula requires a holistic approach that deals with other inequities that women disproportionately experience, including isolation, poverty and illiteracy.

IDEOFImages | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation (USA) | Working to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever.

Hamlin's work, through the Hamlin Model of Care, closely aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These goals envision a better world for the future and cover many areas from education to climate action. Click here to read how Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is meeting some of these goals.

buritu patient blog4 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation (USA) | Working to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever.

The fight to eradicate fistula requires accelerated efforts in improving maternal health from the global community, and increased investment in providing adequate medical care to every woman, everywhere.

Treating fistula patients

There are still an estimated 31,000 women living with devastating obstetric fistula injuries in Ethiopia. These injuries leave them trapped in a life of pain, shame and isolation.

Mohammed Patient Identification Officer4 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation (USA) | Working to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever.

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia’s immediate priority is to find and treat all existing and new cases, that’s why our Patient Identification Program is so important. Hamlin’s Patient Identification Program is focused on finding, treating and caring for these women so it can: Secure women’s health and wellbeing, help women regain their roles in their families and communities, increase national awareness of obstetric fistula and educate people on how to seek treatment.

ideof21 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation (USA) | Working to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever.

Rehabilitating and reintegrating fistula patients

Catherine always believed that treating a fistula patient isn’t just treating a hole in the bladder, but rather the whole patient. Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia understands that fistula leaves both physical and emotional scars, and therefore provides rehabilitation and reintegration programs to help fistula patients reintegrate into their communities, or start independent lives of their own. This includes a customized counseling program and a skills training programs tailored for every woman.

IWD21 blog7 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation (USA) | Working to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever.

Preventing fistula

In countries where women have access to adequate maternal health care, fistula is virtually a thing of the past. For too many women in Ethiopia, fistula continues to be a reality. Over 70% of births take place without a doctor or nurse present, resulting in women in obstructed labor not getting the medical care they need.

midwifebabyprevention6 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation (USA) | Working to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever.

With the belief that prevention in the key to ending obstetric fistula, the Hamlin College of Midwives was established in 2007. Since then, 190 Hamlin Midwives have graduated from the Hamlin College of Midwives. Currently, 90 students are undergoing their four-year Bachelor of Science (Midwifery) degree on full scholarships, thanks to the generosity of Hamlin supporters.

midwivesgraduation5 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation (USA) | Working to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever.

When they graduate, Hamlin Midwives return to their communities to work in Hamlin-supported midwifery clinics. Their knowledge of local languages help Hamlin Midwives forge trust with their local community, changing misconceptions about maternal health care and empowering women with the medical care they need. In the 2019-2020 program year, 24,856 babies were successfully delivered at Hamlin-supported midwifery clinics.

midwifebabyprevention2 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation (USA) | Working to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever.

On International Day of End Obstetric Fistula, we stand together and fight for a world where fistula does not exist. Giving birth should not be a death sentence, for mother or child. Through your continued support Hamlin Midwives have prevented countless fistulas from occurring in the first place.

midwifebabyprevention5 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation (USA) | Working to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever.

International Day to End Obstetric Fistula: how you can help

Fundraise: Join the $7from7 movement. Donate $7. Get 7 friends to give too. Help 7 women suffering with fistula. Learn how you can get involved here.

Talk: International Day to End Obstetric Fistula is an important day of advocacy. Have a conversation with your family, colleagues or friends; talk to them about what supporting fistula patients means to you and tell them about the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation.

Donate: Donations to charity support women in Ethiopia. Click here to give to Hamlin.

Read: Discover the untold tale of Mamitu Gashe, Dr Catherine Hamlin's protégée, and the inspiring decades-long friendship between these two formidable women in the acclaimed book Healing Lives. Order your copy of Healing Lives here.

Social media: Share this blog on social media to spread the Hamlin story and encourage others to learn more.

This International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, donate $7. Get 7 friends to give $7 as well. Help 7 women suffering from fistula. Click here to join the $7from7 movement.

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All rights reserved 2020 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 and images have been changed to protect the identities of those we help.