Catherine Hamlin

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Catherine Hamlin
Dr Catherine Hamlin (cropped).jpg
Catherine Hamlin 2009
Born Catherine Nicholson
(1924-01-24) 24 January 1924 (age 91)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Nationality Australian
Occupation Obstetrician
Religion Christianity[1][2]

(Elinor) Catherine Hamlin (née Hinkelson), AC, MBBS, FRCS, FRANZCOG, FRCOG is an Australian obstetrician and gynaecologist who, with her husband New Zealander Dr. Reg Hamlin, co-founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, the world's only medical centre dedicated exclusively to providing free obstetric fistula repair surgery to poor women suffering from childbirth injuries. They also co-founded an associated non-profit organisation, Hamlin Fistula.

Hamlin has been recognised by the United Nations agency UNFPA as a pioneer in fistula surgery for her development of techniques and procedures for obstetric fistula treatment. She, her husband, and the hospital's medical staff have treated more than 34,000 women for obstetric fistula.

Family and education[edit]

Hamlin's family lived in the Sydney suburb of Ryde, at ‘The Hermitage’, built by John Blaxland in 1842. One of six children of Elinor and Theodore Nicholson, Catherine went to Frensham School in Mittagong, before going to the University of Sydney and graduating from its Medical School in 1946.

After internships at St Joseph’s Hospital Auburn, and St George Hospital Kogarah, she became a resident in obstetrics at Crown Street Women's Hospital. In 1950 she married Dr Reginald Hamlin, medical superintendent at Crown Street and in 1959 the couple accepted a contract with the Ethiopian Government to set up a midwifery school in Addis Ababa.[3] Hamlin's son, Richard, lives in the UK with his wife Diana and their four children.

Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital[edit]

In 1958 the Hamlins answered an advertisement in The Lancet medical journal for an obstetrician and gynaecologist to establish a midwifery school at the Princess Tsehay Hospital in Addis Ababa. They arrived in 1959 on a three-year contract with the Ethiopian government but only about 10 midwives had been trained before the government closed the school. The Hamlins had never seen an obstetric fistula before — they were an "academic rarity"[4] having been virtually eradicated in the United States in 1895. (The first fistula hospital closed its doors in New York City in 1925.)[4] Seeing many cases arrive at the school, they decided to create a dedicated hospital. Fifteen years later, they founded Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.[5]

Hamlin lives in her cottage on the grounds of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital as she has done for over thirty-five years. She remains very active in the work of the hospital and operates every Thursday morning. Richard Hamlin is actively involved in the activities of the hospital and sits on its Board of Trustees.[6]


Hamlin has been awarded honorary fellowships in the medical associations of Australia, England and the United States. On 26 January 1983, she was appointed as a Member of the Order of Australia for her services to gynaecology in developing countries[7] and on 26 January 1995, Hamlin was awarded Australia's highest honour, being promoted to the grade of Companion of the Order of Australia.[8] On 1 January 2001, she was awarded the Centenary Medal for "long and outstanding service to international development in Africa".[9] She is the author of the best-selling book The Hospital by the River: A Story of Hope.[4] She has been described as a modern day "Mother Teresa" in an editorial by Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times.[10] Hamlin appeared on the Oprah Winfrey television show in January 2004 and the episode was included in Winfrey's 20-year anthology collection. Winfrey travelled to the hospital and filmed another episode for her show, broadcast in December 2005. The 2007 documentary, "A Walk to Beautiful" featured five Ethiopian women who were treated and cured by Hamlin and her team at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.[11][12] In 2009 she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, also called the "Alternate Nobel Prize".[13] [14]

Hamlin was among 50 prominent Australians invited by the Governor-General of Australia, Quentin Bryce, to take lunch with Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh at Government House, Canberra on 23 October 2011.[15]


Both Hamlin and her hospital are the recipients of numerous awards.[16] Known for her dedication and humility, Hamlin says of the plaudits she has received that "I'm doing what I love doing and it's not a hardship for me to be working in Ethiopia with these women".[17]

Catherine Hamlin[edit]

1971 Haile Selassie Humanitarian Prize
1984 ANZAC Peace Prize
1987 Gold Medal of Merit, Order of St. Gregory the Great
1989 Honorary Gold Medal, Royal College of Surgeons
1995 Companion of the Order of Australia
1996 Zonta International Award, International Honorary Member
1998 Rotary Award for World Understanding and Peace, Rotary International
1999 Nominee, Nobel Peace Prize [18]
2000 Centenary Medal, The Order of Australia Association
2003 Honorary Fellow, American College of Surgeons
2004 National Living Treasure of Australia, National Trust of Australia
2004 Best Practices in Global Health, Global Health Council
2005 Honorary Fellow, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
2005 Doctor of Medicine Honoris causa, University of Sydney
2006 Doctorate of Law, Honoris causa, University of Dundee
2006 Honorary Fellow of the Australian College of Educators
2009 Gold Medal, World Association for Sexual Health
2009 Right Livelihood Award, Stockholm, Sweden [19]
2010 Honorary Doctorate, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
2010 Lifetime Achievement Award, "People to People", Ethiopia
2010 Achievement Award, (International Women's Day), President of Ethiopia
2012 Honorary Ethiopian Citizenship, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
2014 Nominee, Nobel Peace Prize[10][20]

Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital[edit]

2004 United Nations Population Award – United Nations Population Fund
2004 Dr Nathan Davis Award for Outstanding Global Health Initiative, American Medical Association
2007 The Best Humanitarian and Social Service in Ethiopia – President of Ethiopia His Excellency Ato Girma Wolde-Giorgis


  1. ^ Sarah Macdonald. How Catherine Hamlin brought safe birthing to Ethiopia. 24 March, 2014.
  2. ^ Monica Attard. 23 March 2008. Dr Catherine Hamlin, Founder of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital
  3. ^ Jones, Caroline. "Dr Catherine Hamlin AC". Australian Women's History Forum. Retrieved 2011-11-01. 
  4. ^ a b c Hamlin, Catherine; John Little (2001). The hospital by the river: a story of hope. Sydney: Pan Macmillan. ISBN 0-7329-1082-X. 
  5. ^ Hamlin History
  6. ^ Hamlin Chronology
  7. ^ Awards and Culture Branch, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (26 January 1983). "Its an Honour". [1]. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 2010-06-20. 
  8. ^ Awards and Culture Branch, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (26 January 1995). "Its an Honour". [2]. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 2010-06-20. 
  9. ^ Awards and Culture Branch, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (1 January 2001). "Its an Honour". [3]. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 2010-06-20. 
  10. ^ a b Kristof, Nikolas (5 February 2014). "At 90, This Doctor Is Still Calling". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-02-05. 
  11. ^ "A Walk to Beautiful (2007)". [4]. The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2010-06-20. 
  12. ^ Little, John. Catherine's Gift: inside the extraordinary world of Dr Catherine Hamlin, 2008 Macmillan, Australia ISBN 978-0-330-42598-8
  13. ^ "Right Livelihood Award: List of Laureates". The Right Livelihood Award. Retrieved 2010-08-24. 
  14. ^ Testoni, Evyn (14 October 2009). "Aussie aid worker wins award". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2011-10-29. 
  15. ^ Wright, Tony (22 October 2011). "Ma'am won't be needing the royal list of small talk". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2011-10-29. 
  16. ^ website of the Hamlin Fistula Relief and Aid Fund
  17. ^ Attard, Monica (23 March 2008). "Dr Catherine Hamlin, Founder of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital". Sunday Profile. ABC, Australia. Retrieved 2011-10-31. 
  18. ^ Transcript of interview with Peter Thompson on ABC TV, screened 14 July 2008
  19. ^ Hamlin's acceptance speech for the Right Livelihood Award
  20. ^

External links[edit]

  • - Official website for the only authorised representative for Dr Hamlin and Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia in Australia
  • - Official website of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital
  • Oprah video