The Fistula Hospital of Addis Ababa...

This is a place where miracles are performed. About one out of every twelve women in Africa dies during childbirth. Untreated obstructed labor is a major problem as it can cause many serious problems including perforations between the vagina and bladder or rectum (fistulas) causing incontinence, loss of menstrual cycles, paralysis caused by blockage of blood flow, etc.

In the developing world, access to medical treatment for obstructed labor and the resulting problems is very limited. Add to that the tremendous sense of shame and social outcast attached to problems of this nature and you can understand how so much suffering can occur. In developed countries, obstructed childbirth is almost always successfully overcome with proper medical assistance and caesarian section. As hard as it may seem to believe, the surgical techniques to repair these injuries date all the way back to the 1850s. The first fistula hospital in the US opened in 1850 in New York and closed its doors in 1895 due to the lack of need for its service as a result of improved availability of medical care. In Ethiopia alone, nearly 9,000 cases of untreated obstructed labor occur every year, but this facility can only treat about 1,500. Transporting the affected women to the facility is a major problem limiting how many women receive treatment.

The facility was founded by Drs. Reginald and Catherine Hamlin in 1974, several years after they both moved from their native Australia to Addis Ababa in 1959. Dr. Reginald Hamlin passed away in 1993 but Catherine's drive and devotion keeps the facility ever growing and serving women. They treat about 1,500 patients a year and have treated over 20,000 women since they opened the facility. It's a nearly self-sustaining village complete with lodging, kitchen, teaching and laundry facilities, beautiful gardens as well as the necessary hospital ward and operating facilities. Many of the patients remain to work at the hospital after their recovery.

Please be sure to look on the "Links" page for a link to the home page of this wonderful facility so that you can learn more about it (and donate money!). Their website is very educational and inspiring. Our visit to the facility was a truly moving and very emotional experience for all of us.

(Photo copyright: World Health Organization / P. Virot)

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