“My dream is to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever. “I won’t do this in my lifetime, but you can in yours,” Dr. Catherine Hamlin once said.
The celebrated Australian medical doctor who came to Ethiopia with her husband, Reginald Hamlin in 1959, with the intention of providing obstetric fistula repair surgery for Ethiopia’s vulnerable women, died at the age of 96 on Wednesday.
The duo has been credited with treating thousands of women for obstetric fistula, earning her a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, twice, among a list of recognitions.
President Sahle Work Zewde called her a “hero”.
“Doctor Catherine Hamlin has dedicated more than sixty years of her life, at a young age, to bringing back God given dignity to 60,000 plus Ethiopian women and girls,” the President wrote at a book of memorial inside the Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia headquarters.
“Ethiopia and Ethiopians will be forever grateful for your love, your dedication and your excellent professionalism. You have done a huge service to what is your country (Ethiopia),” she added.
The chance to move to Ethiopia came in 1959 as a middle-aged woman, when her husband decided to take advantage of a call by Emperor Haile Selassie I for an obstetrician to start a midwifery school in a public hospital in the capital.
When she was picked and came to Ethiopia, the nation with deep in poverty and little resources made an impression on the young doctor. It overwhelmed her and helped steer her life to addressing the humanitarian need of the nation.
Privileged and educated, the duo, with a toddler at home, were convinced it was a chance to contribute to the betterment of Ethiopia and help change the narrative of thousands of Ethiopian women, far from their own reality at home.
“We were touched and appalled by the sadness of our first fistula patient: a beautiful young woman in urine-soaked ragged clothes, sitting alone in our outpatients department away from other waiting patients. We knew she was more in need than the others,” she once reflected.
“When I die, this place will go on for many, many years until we have eradicated fistula altogether – until every woman in Ethiopia is assured of a safe delivery and a live baby,” she once said.
To that end, President Sahle Work added, “We will continue building on your legacy and rest in peace our hero.”
In 2012, she was made an honorary Ethiopian citizen by the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.