By Tim Barlass Senior Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald

World-renowned Sydney gynaecologist Dr Catherine Hamlin died at her home on Wednesday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She was 96.

Dr Hamlin, together with her husband the late Dr Reg Hamlin, established treatment centres for women suffering from the debilitating effects of obstetric fistula, a crippling condition that results from complications in childbirth almost unknown in the West.

Over the past 61 years, more than 60,000 Ethiopian women have received the life-changing reconstructive surgery for obstetric fistula, thanks to the Hamlins’ dedication.

Carolyn Hardy, chief executive Officer of Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation, said on Thursday: “To say Catherine was a remarkable woman is an understatement. In our eyes, she was a saint.”

Julie White, Chair of Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation said:“Catherine has lived an incredible life having made an enormous difference to the lives and health of thousands upon thousands of women in Ethiopia. Her passionate commitment to women and maternal health through her trust and belief in fulfilling God’s work with love and devotion to others is something that we are all in awe of.”

In 1983, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) and in 1995 awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia for “service to gynaecology in developing countries, particularly in the field of fistula surgery and for humanitarian service to improving the health dignity and self-esteem of women in Ethiopia”.

In 2001, she was included on the Australian Living Legends list and in 2011 was among 50 prominent Australians invited by Governor-General Quentin Bryce to lunch with the Queen.

Her niece, Dr Alison Morgan, who is a global maternal health specialist and a director of the foundation, said it was Catherine’s influence that led her into medicine.

“All my life she has been based in Addis Ababa and every three years she would come home and provide an extraordinary window on the world for a young child. Everyone calls her a saint but she was a rebel at heart,” Dr Morgan said.

Dr Hamlin published her autobiography, co-written with Australian journalist and author John Little, The Hospital by the River: a story of hope, in 2001.

The Sydney Morning Herald photographer Kate Geraghty, who visited Dr Hamlin to document her work, said she left a lasting impression.

“She was the epitome of gracefulness and empathy. She was still doing the rounds and talking to patients in the wards when I visited,” Geraghty said.

Dr Hamlin was confident that her legacy would live on: “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 said.

Today, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is a healthcare network of over 550 Ethiopian staff servicing six hospitals, including the Desta Mender rehabilitation centre, the Hamlin College of Midwives and 80 Hamlin supported midwifery clinics.

In Australia, the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation will continue fundraising and supporting them to ensure Dr Hamlin’s work with fistula injury will continue until it has been eradicated from Ethiopia.


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