World-renowned Christian obstetrician and gynaecologist, Dr Catherine Hamlin AC has passed away at her home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at the age of 96.

Dr Hamlin, together with her husband, the late Dr Reg Hamlin OBE, created a network of treatment centres for women suffering from obstetric fistula. The crippling condition results from complications in childbirth and leads to social isolation in poor African communities. 

Dr Hamlin in the operating theatre (Photo: Mary F. Calvert 2016)

"Not only the women of Ethiopia but women throughout Africa, are indebted to the work of Catherine Hamlin," said the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies. "In 1974 she and her husband, Reginald, both obstetricians and gynaecologists, founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. Over the past 45 years, the hospital has provided free fistula repair surgery to tens of thousands of poor women suffering from childbirth injuries."

Drs Catherine and Reg Hamlin with staff in the early days

As an Anglican from Sydney, Catherine Hamlin and her husband received support from Christians in Australia and the then Archbishop, Sir Marcus Loane. Wider support came as the Hamlin's pioneering work became known and obstetric fistula became recognised as a major issue for African women.

Both Dr Hamlin and her husband were the recipients of Australian and International honours which included the Australian Centenary Medal and honorary Ethiopian citizenship for Mrs Hamlin.

"Catherine’s commitment to use her remarkable gifts for innovative fistula surgery arose from her deep commitment to Christ," Archbishop Davies said. "Her legacy will continue into the future, but the world has lost a Christian woman of profound faith who has left an indelible mark upon modern medicine as well as the relief of the needs of the poor."

The work continues, supported by Hamlin Fistula Australia and the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation.

"Dr Catherine Hamlin’s dedication of her medical skills to the relief of the suffering of those least able to help themselves and her firm quiet confidence in God’s overarching blessing and provision is seen in the establishment of the Addis Abba Fistula Hospital. Truly an outstanding example of Christian compassion in action." said the Chair of Hamlin Fistula Australia, Dr Robert Tong AM.

The couple took as their inspiration a scripture verse from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25 verse 40 'whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me'. The verse is below Dr Reg Hamlin's photo which hangs in the hospital.

In her autobiography, The Hospital by the River: a story of hope co-written with Australian writer John Little,  Dr Hamlin wrote of the desperate situation that women with obstetric fistula faced.
"I have sometimes been asked if these tragic cases ever test my faith. I can truly say that, if anything, my faith has been strengthened and my soul more firmly anchored to Jesus as the only one to whom we can turn. Jesus never promised us a smooth or trouble-free passage through life. He did promise to be with us to share the sorrow and the pain," Catherine Hamlin wrote.
"The joy I receive from working for these patients is something for which I thank God every day. This has been my experience and I know this is what Reg felt too. I am sure that Reg and I were led here. At the time I did not know it, but in the end, this is the place where we were meant to be. It hasn’t really affected my faith. In fact, if anything, it has strengthened my faith to know that we are doing something that is in His will and the wonderful thing is that it is so enjoyable." 


Photos: Main photo credit: Joni Kabana Photos courtesy of Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation