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Meet our Clinical Team: Dr Bitew

Dr Bitew Abebe is the Medical Director at Hamlin’s Bahir Dar Fistula Hospital. His work as a urogynecologist and obstetric fistula surgeon has transformed the lives of thousands of Ethiopian women. Dr Bitew joined Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia in 2009. Prior to working at Hamlin, he studied medicine at the Addis Ababa University and specialized in obstetrics and gynecology. Dr Bitew previously worked at the Black Lion Hospital and the Felege Hiwot Referral Teaching Hospital. A vital member of Hamlin's Clinical Team, Dr Bitew’s work is helping to eradicate fistula.

Dr Bitew’s commitment to eradicating fistula

With a commitment to helping those in need, Dr Bitew joined Hamlin in 2009, where he was trained by Dr Catherine Hamlin and Mamitu Gashe. His rationale for working with Hamlin was simple. “I was interested in working for Hamlin because of the dedication and passion of the staff, and the free, holistic services given to patients. I feel great working here; I feel Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is leading the world in fistula surgery and holistic care services,” explains Dr Bitew.

Dr Bitew fistula surgeon at Bahir Dar hospital9 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation (USA) | Working to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever.

As a fistula surgeon, Dr Bitew performs approximately 300 fistula repair surgeries each year. He estimates that he has performed a total of 3,900 surgeries during his time at Hamlin. That’s 3,900 lives transformed thanks to Dr Bitew’s dedication and hard work.

Dr Bitew fistula surgeon at Bahir Dar hospital2 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation (USA) | Working to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever.

Dr Bitew is determined to help finish the work that Dr Catherine Hamlin started and eradicate fistula. As a part of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) Surgeon Training Program, Dr Bitew is training the next generation of fistula surgeons from around the world to provide best-practice care to women with childbirth injures. “I provide the standard knowledge and skills for fistula repair surgery to FIGO-recruited fistula surgery trainees. My priority is to see Africa eliminate obstetric fistula from the continent,” he declares.

Dr Bitew assessing a patient

Urogynecology at Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia

Urogynecology is a sub-speciality of gynecology and urology related to the pelvic floor and bladder. Dr Bitew is a member of Hamlin’s Urogynecology Fellowship. On 11 January, 2020, he graduated from the program as a urogynecologist.

Dr Bitew in surgery

Hamlin’s Urogynecology Fellowship has been incredibly beneficial for Dr Bitew: “The program allows career progression and accomplishments, and enables me to provide updated, best-practice surgical care for patients,” says Dr Bitew.

Dr Bitew fistula surgeon at Bahir Dar hospital6 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation (USA) | Working to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever.

Having learned first-hand from pioneering fistula surgeon, Dr Catherine Hamlin, Dr Bitew is proud to be following in the Hamlins’ footsteps: “I am very grateful and honored to work at Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia. [Drs Reg and Catherine Hamlin] have left a legacy of dedication, commitment, and passion to serve mothers with birth injuries – irrespective of their language, color, religion, ethnicity, political view and economic status, so I am very much proud to continue their tradition.”

Dr Bitew and Hamlin staff in surgery

Striking a work-life balance

Dr Bitew's passion and enthusiasm for his work is obvious. "My favorite thing is perform a standard fistula repair surgery and providing holistic care for fistula patients," he declares. The satisfaction of changing a woman's life and seeing her recover from her fistula injury drives Dr Bitew's work. "After a woman recovers, I feel honored and blessed. Having the skill and knowledge to repair and give happiness to women with childbirth injuries is great," he says.

Dr Bitew writing notes

When he’s not working at Hamlin’s Bahir Dar Fistula Hospital, the father of four spends time with his family. “I spend my spare time visiting my families, helping homeless children within the city, and taking my children to the playground. I love watching athletics and boxing, and my dream hobby would be to visit countries outside of Ethiopia,” Dr Bitew enthuses.

Dr Bitew with Hamlin patients

The future of fistula treatment in Ethiopia

With an estimated 31,000 women in Ethiopia suffering from fistula injuries, Hamlin’s Patient Identification Program is systematically searching for fistula patients in villages across Ethiopia, connecting them to life-changing care at Hamlin fistula hospitals. “Our biggest problem is identifying fistula patients because these patients are usually deserted by their husbands, ostracised, the poorest of the poor without social and economic connections. [They are geographically isolated] living behind the mountains and beyond the big rivers,” notes Dr Bitew.

Assessing the current barriers women in Ethiopia face, Dr Bitew explains that “the current maternal health challenges for women in Ethiopia remain access to emergency care and comprehensive obstetric care.”

Dr Bitew fistula surgeon at Bahir Dar hospital4 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation (USA) | Working to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever.

Despite the challenges that so many women in Ethiopia face, he remains hopeful. “I hope to see future generations of Ethiopian women have free access to emergency care and comprehensive obstetric care, to be free from obstructed labor and its complications, like fistula,” he says.

Learn more about the Hamlin Clinical Team and their tireless work to eradicate fistula. Forever.

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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.