SOURCE: Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation

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 obstructed labor, 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 in 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.

Our mission is to End Fistula. Forever.

5 Facts about Obstetric Fistula

Fact 1: Over 70% of 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 paralyzed. Tragically, 93% of women who suffer an obstetric fistula will give birth to a stillborn baby.

Fact 2: An estimated 31,000 women in Ethiopia live 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 can empower their communities and live a life of dignity, agency, and good health.

Fact 4: Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia has performed life-changing surgery on over 60,000 women.

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, which operates a healthcare network of six hospitals, has performed life-changing surgery on more than 60,000 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.

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