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International Day to End Obstetric Fistula 2024

The International Day to End Obstetric Fistula is marked annually on 23 May. It is a day to draw attention to the devastating injury caused during an obstructed labor; an injury which continues to impact the lives of tens of thousands of women in Ethiopia.

On this day, and every day, Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation is working towards a fistula-free world, where:

  • women are free of incontinence caused by fistula injuries, and the isolation this brings;
  • women can be confident of delivering their babies safely;
  • women do not have to suffer agonizing, obstructed labor; and
  • all women, regardless of whether they live, can access maternal health care.

Women like Hawwa, who spent years of her life hiding in shame and agony after losing her baby and suffering an obstetric fistula during her first pregnancy.

Through our Project Zero initiative, Patient Identification Officers found Hawwa and transported her to a Hamlin hospital for treatment.

“The care I got was beyond imagination. Now I am dry. I will go home and start my life again.”

5 Facts about Obstetric Fistula

Fact 1: Half of all women in Ethiopia give birth at home without medical care.

A home birth, without a healthcare professional in attendance, increases a woman’s chances of developing an obstetric fistula. This can leave women incontinent, isolated from their communities, and even paralysed. Tragically, 90% of women who suffer an obstetric fistula will give birth to a stillborn baby.

Fact 2: An estimated 31,000 women in Ethiopia are living with a fistula injury.

Our Project Zero initiative is focused on finding the estimated 31,000 women in Ethiopia who remain physically and emotionally isolated by fistula injuries. Using a Woreda-by-Woreda (district) approach, Hamlin-trained Patient Identification Officers go door-to-door in search of women who remain unaware that a simple two-hour operation could provide a cure.

Fact 3: Obstetric fistula is not just a maternal health issue, but a human rights issue. 

By treating fistula through a holistic, whole-patient approach, we not only treat the injury, but can also address other inequities that women experience, including isolation, poverty, and illiteracy. Hamlin’s Rehabilitation and Reintegration Program at Desta Mender offers counseling, literacy, and numeracy classes, as well as vocational and life skills training. By empowering healed women, they in turn can empower their communities and live a life of dignity, agency, and good health.

Fact 4: Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia has performed life-changing surgery to over 70,000 women.

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, which operates a healthcare network of six hospitals, has performed life-changing surgery to more 70,000 women with obstetric fistula since its inception. Surgery is also available for a range of other gynecological conditions, including advanced-stage pelvic organ prolapse. All patients are treated free of charge at Hamlin hospitals.

Fact 5: Midwives are essential to eradicating fistula in Ethiopia. Forever.

Midwives working in Ethiopia’s rural areas play a vital role in reducing birth injuries. By identifying pregnancy complications, they can prevent obstetric fistula from occurring in the first place. In 2007, Catherine established the Hamlin College of Midwives to increase access to quality healthcare. With a curriculum that meets the standards of the International Confederation of Midwives, graduates return to their local areas to work in Hamlin-supported midwifery clinics.

How you can help

Donate: Your financial support is powerful. Give a one-off or monthly donation to Hamlin to empower women and help build a fistula-free future.

Fundraise: Get your friends and family together and help make a difference to women in Ethiopia. You can get active, get crafty or get social for a good cause. 

Buy a Gift that Gives Back: when you buy a Gifts from the Heart card, you are helping to give back health and dignity to women suffering from obstetric fistula and other childbirth injuries.


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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.