Inspiring Thursday: Elinor Catherine Hamlin

“They’re alone in the world, ashamed of their injuries. For lepers, or Aids victims, there are organisations that help. But nobody knows about these women or helps them.” (Catherine Halin, in: BBC online)

Exactly one week ago the sad news of Catherine Hamlin’s death reached us. Like so many others we want to honour her memory by writing about this wonderful person and drawing attention to her life’s work.

Elinor Catherine Nicholson was born 1924 in Sydney where she spent her childhood and early adulthood. After graduating from medical school and working as an obstetrician in several hospitals in Australia, Catherine’s life took sharp turn caused by a decision she made in 1957. Dr. Hamlin, as she was called after marriage, and her husband and fellow obstetrician Reginald Hamlin answered an advertisement. The ad was looking for foreign doctors who will go to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to establish a midwifery school.

While living in Ethiopia she was soon confronted with a condition that is virtually eradicated in richer countries: Obstetric fistula. Obstetric fistula is an injury women can suffer from after childbirth. Between bladder and/or the rectum and the vaginal opening a rapture will occur. Due to the injury urin and/or faecies will find their way outside the body through the vagina. Many tens of thousands of Ethiopian women suffer from this. The reasons why obstetric fistula is still a big problem in the ‘developing world’ are manifold. To read more about the condition head to the sources we’ve linked below. The impact obstetric fistula has on these women’s lives is devastating. Recognising the need for attention towards this topic, Dr. Hamlin founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in 1974. The hospital remains the only institution dedicated exclusively to providing obstretic fistula repair surgery as well as education on techniques and procedures for the treatment. Of great importance is the fact that Dr. Hamlin was able to offer the patient all their treatments for free.

During her lifetime Dr. Catherine Hamlin and her hospital received a number of prestigious awards and honorary titles by the state of Ethiopia and Australia as well as institutions like the United Nations.

Dr. Hamlin will be an inspiration even long after she’s gone. This woman dedicated her life to a cause that has changed and will continue to change the lives of thousands of women. Having worked well into her 90ies, Dr. Catherine Hamlin died on the 18th of March 2020 at the age of 96 years.

Written by WAVE intern: Perrine Yarar


Barlass, Tim: Catherine Hamlin, ‘Saint of Addis Ababa’, dies at 96, in: The Sidney Morning Herald online (03/19/2020). URL: (retrieved: 03/24/2020).

Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation, URL: (retrieved: 03/24/2020).

Catherine Hamlin. Grief in Ethiopia as trailblazing doctor dies, in: BBC online (03/19/2020). URL: (retrieved: 03/24/2020).

Dahir, Abdi Latif: Catherine Hamlin, 96, Dies; Pioneering Doctor Treated Childbirth Injury, in: The New York Times online (03/19/2020). URL: (retrieved: 03/24/2020).