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Catherine Hamlin

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Catherine Hamlin
Hamlin in 2009
Elinor Catherine Nicholson

(1924-01-24)24 January 1924
Died18 March 2020(2020-03-18) (aged 96)
NationalityAustralian, Ethiopian
AwardsRight Livelihood Award

Elinor Catherine Hamlin, AC, FRCS, FRANZCOG, FRCOG (née Nicholson; 24 January 1924 – 18 March 2020) was an Australian obstetrician and gynaecologist who, with her husband, New Zealander Reginald 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 with childbirth injuries.[1] They also co-founded an associated non-profit organisation, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia.

Hamlin was recognised by the United Nations agency UNFPA as a pioneer in fistula surgery for her development of techniques and procedures for obstetric fistula treatment. The Hamlins, together with the hospital staff, have treated more than 60,000 women to date for obstetric fistula.[2] She died in Addis Ababa on 18 March 2020.[3]

Family and education


Elinor Catherine Nicholson was raised in the Sydney suburb of Ryde, at "The Hermitage". One of six children of Elinor and Theodore Nicholson, she went to Frensham School in Mittagong,[4] before attending the University of Sydney and graduating from its medical school in 1946.[5] After internships at St Joseph's Hospital, Auburn NSW, and St George's Hospital, Kogarah, she became a resident in obstetrics at Crown Street Women's Hospital.

In 1950, she married New Zealander Reginald Hamlin QSO OBE, a physician and medical superintendent at Crown Street.[4]

Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital

Three trainee midwives with Catherine Hamlin at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in 2009

In 1958, the Hamlins replied to an advertisement placed by the Ethiopian government in The Lancet medical journal for an obstetrician and gynaecologist to establish a midwifery school at the Princess Tsehay Hospital in Addis Ababa.[5] They arrived in 1959 with their six-year-old son, Richard.[6] By 1959, obstetric fistulas had become an "academic rarity" in Australia and the United States.[7] Seeing many cases arrive at the school, they decided to create a dedicated hospital. Fifteen years later, in 1974, they founded Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital[8] which is the world's first modern fistula hospital.

Between 2003 and 2010, Catherine Hamlin established five additional fistula treatment facilities in remote parts of Ethiopia, due to the higher rates of fistula cases due to less access to prenatal and perinatal care.[9] The five hospitals are located in Bahir Dar, Mekele, Yirgalem, Harar, and Mettu. The Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital and Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia's five regional hospitals have treated more than 60,000 patients.[2]

Hamlin lived in her cottage on the grounds of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital and remained active in the day-to-day work of the hospital and patient care until her death in 2020. Reg Hamlin was actively involved in the activities of the hospital and was a member of its board of trustees until his death in 1993.[8]

Fistula prevention and rehabilitation programs


Hamlin's efforts to end fistula saw her lead a program of preventing obstetric fistulas through Ethiopia; she believed that midwifery was key to preventing fistulas from occurring in the first place. Hamlin argued that "to put a well trained midwife in every village would soon eradicate obstetric fistulae."[10] In 2007 she founded the Hamlin College of Midwives. Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia recruits students from rural areas, provides a full four-year scholarship for students as they gain their Bachelor of Science (Midwifery) degree. Upon their graduation, students are deployed back to their communities where their skills are needed. As of November 2019, 170 midwives have graduated from the college; 92 are currently studying.[11] Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia has partnered with the Ethiopian government to provide resources and midwives who have graduated from the Hamlin College of Midwives, to 80 government midwifery clinics across regional Ethiopia.

As part of the whole patient approach she advocated, Hamlin opened a rehabilitation and reintegration centre for fistula patients in 2002. Called Desta Mender (Amharic for 'Joy Village'), the facility was built on land donated by the Ethiopian government. The location of the site is approximately 10 kilometres from the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. Desta Mender has 10 houses to accommodate patients with chronic long-term injuries which require further care.[12] Patients at the rehabilitation and reintegration centre undergo literacy and numeracy classes, counselling[13] and vocational training.[14]


Hamlin meets Queen Elizabeth II at Government House, Canberra in 2011

Hamlin has been awarded honorary fellowships in the medical associations of Australia, England and the United States. On 26 January 1983, she was made a Member of the Order of Australia for her services to gynaecology in developing countries[15] and on 26 January 1995, Hamlin was awarded Australia's highest honour, Companion of the Order of Australia.[16]

On 1 January 2001, Hamlin was awarded the Centenary Medal for "long and outstanding service to international development in Africa".[17] She is the author of the best-selling book, The Hospital by the River: A Story of Hope, first published in 2001. A second edition was published in 2016.[2] Hamlin was described as a "modern-day Mother Teresa" in an editorial by Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times.[18]

Hamlin appeared on Oprah Winfrey's television show in January 2004. 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 by Hamlin and her team at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.[19][20]

In 2009, Hamlin was awarded the Right Livelihood Award.[21][22]

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

In November 2016, a Sydney Ferries Emerald-class ferry was named Catherine Hamlin.[24]

In 2019, Hamlin celebrated the 60th anniversary of her arrival in Ethiopia at a ceremony at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, gave a speech recognising Hamlin's great impact on Ethiopia and presented her with the prestigious Eminent Citizen Award on behalf of the Government of Ethiopia. She is one of only three people ever to receive this accolade.[25]


The Sydney ferry Catherine Hamlin

Both Hamlin and her hospital received numerous awards.[8] Known for her dedication and humility, Hamlin said of the plaudits she 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".[26]

Relevant literature



  • The Hospital By the River (Hamlin and Little, 2016)[39]
  • Catherine's Gift (Little, 2010)[40]




  1. ^ Barlass, Tim (19 March 2020). "Catherine Hamlin, 'Saint of Addis Ababa', dies at 96". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  2. ^ a b c Hamlin, Catherine; Little, John (2016). The hospital by the river (2nd ed.). Sydney, Australia: Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd. ISBN 978-1-74353-781-7.
  3. ^ "Catherine Hamlin: Grief in Ethiopia as trailblazing Australian doctor dies". BBC.com. 19 March 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Ciardullo, Patsy. "Elinor Catherine Hamlin profile". The Embryo Project at Arizona State University. ISSN 1940-5030. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  5. ^ a b c Visontay, Michael (November 2014). "Doctor on a Mission". University of Sydney. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  6. ^ "Dr Catherine Hamlin AC". Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia. 2016. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  7. ^ Hamlin, Catherine; John Little (2001). The hospital by the river: a story of hope. Sydney: Pan Macmillan. ISBN 0-7329-1082-X.
  8. ^ a b c d "Our Founders". Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia. 2015. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
  9. ^ "The Need to Go Regional". Hamlin. 8 January 2020. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  10. ^ "Acceptance speech - Catherine Hamlin". The Right Livelihood Award. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  11. ^ "New Students Realising Catherine's Dream". Hamlin. 22 November 2019. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  12. ^ "Opening Desta Mender". Hamlin. 6 April 2020. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  13. ^ "Hamlin's Rehabilitation Program: 2019". Hamlin. 16 December 2019. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  14. ^ "Building a New Life with New Skills". Hamlin. 6 April 2020. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  15. ^ Awards and Culture Branch, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (26 January 1983). "Its an Honour". itsanhonour.gov.au. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 20 June 2010.
  16. ^ Awards and Culture Branch, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (26 January 1995). "It's an Honour". itsanhonour.gov.au. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Archived from the original on 29 January 2019. Retrieved 20 June 2010.
  17. ^ Awards and Culture Branch, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (1 January 2001). "It's an Honour". itsanhonour.gov.au. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Archived from the original on 18 May 2020. Retrieved 20 June 2010.
  18. ^ a b Kristof, Nikolas (5 February 2014). "At 90, This Doctor Is Still Calling". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 February 2014.
  19. ^ "A Walk to Beautiful (2007)". imdb.com. The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 20 June 2010.
  20. ^ Little, John. Catherine's Gift: inside the extraordinary world of Dr. Catherine Hamlin, 2008 Macmillan, Australia; ISBN 978-0-330-42598-8
  21. ^ "Right Livelihood Award: List of Laureates". The Right Livelihood Award. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  22. ^ Testoni, Evyn (14 October 2009). "Aussie aid worker wins award". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
  23. ^ Wright, Tony (22 October 2011). "Ma'am won't be needing the royal list of small talk". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  24. ^ "Aussie Doctor lends name to newest ferry". Transport for NSW. 15 November 2016. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  25. ^ "Ethiopia Celebrates Catherine's 60 years". Hamlin. 31 May 2019. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  26. ^ Attard, Monica (23 March 2008). "Dr Catherine Hamlin, Founder of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital". Sunday Profile. ABC, Australia. Archived from the original on 18 January 2010. Retrieved 31 October 2011.
  27. ^ "Australian Honours". Australia Celebrating Australians. Government of Australia. 26 January 1982. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
  28. ^ "Biography of Catherine HAMLIN". Africansuccess.org. 15 July 2015. Archived from the original on 23 December 2015. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h "Dr Catherine Hamlin, AC, MBBS, FRCS, FRANZCOG, FRCOG" (PDF). hamlin.org.au. March 2018. Retrieved 30 March 2020.
  30. ^ "International Honorary Members" (PDF). Zonta International. March 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 April 2015. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
  31. ^ a b "Catherine Hamlin (Ethiopia)". Right Livelihood Award Foundation. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  32. ^ Transcript of interview with Peter Thompson Archived 17 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine, ABC TV, screened 14 July 2008.
  33. ^ "Australian Honours". Government of Australia. Retrieved 30 March 2020.
  34. ^ "Hall of Fame". World Association for Sexual Health. 2013. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
  35. ^ "The 91-year-old Gynaecologist", bbc.in; accessed 21 December 2015.
  36. ^ "United Nations Association of Australia to Honor Dr. Catherine Hamlin with 'UNAA Lifework Award 2017'". OnlineEthiopia.net. 2 August 2017. Archived from the original on 5 September 2017. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  37. ^ Ethiopia Semonegna (3 September 2017). "Bego Sew Award Held in Addis Ababa". Semonegna.com. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  38. ^ a b Edemariam, Aida (13 April 2020). "Catherine Hamlin obituary". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  39. ^ Shop, The Hamlin. "The Hospital By The River NEW Issue". The Hamlin Shop. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  40. ^ Shop, The Hamlin. "Catherine's Gift". The Hamlin Shop. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  41. ^ Dahir, Abdi Latif (19 March 2020). "Catherine Hamlin, 96, Dies; Pioneering Doctor Treated Childbirth Injury". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  42. ^ Smith, Harrison (23 March 2020). "Catherine Hamlin, OB/GYN who healed injured and ostracized mothers, dies at 96". The Washington Post.
  43. ^ Barlass, Tim (19 March 2020). "Catherine Hamlin, 'Saint of Addis Ababa', dies at 96". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  44. ^ "Grief in Ethiopia as trailblazing doctor dies". BBC News. 19 March 2020. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  45. ^ "Catherine Hamlin died on March 18th". The Economist. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  46. ^ Green, Andrew (25 April 2020). "Catherine Hamlin". The Lancet. 395 (10233): 1338. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30816-3. ISSN 0140-6736.