Earlier today, EngenderHealth hosted a group from the Hamlin Fistula Hospital to discuss their work in Ethiopia, including co-founder Dr. Catherine Hamlin and CEO Mark Bennett. Both are currently in the US to promote the newly created Hamlin Fistula USA to support the work they are doing in Ethiopia.
Dr. Hamlin has been actively working Ethiopia since 1959 and co-founded, with her husband Dr. Reginald Hamlin, the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in 1974. The hospital trains fistula surgeons, midwives and nurses, in addition to providing treatment and rehabilitation to women suffering from obstetric fistula. Training often occurs in teams, as surgeons are encouraged to bring a theater nurse and a post-op nurse, to ensure that a full continuum of services can be provided. In addition to the hospital in Addis, there are five regional centers serving rural and isolated communities throughout Ethiopia.
Obstetric fistula results in greater problems than can be solved through surgery as women can be traumatized from the experience and often are marginalized from their communities and/or abandoned by their husbands. They are currently working on psychiatric methods to address the mental health needs to of fistula sufferers and have an adult education course that is offered post operation.
Finally, Hamlin Fistula is working to understand the roles of traditional birth attendants (TBAs) in fistula repair. While recognizing that using TBAs is not preferred, Mr. Bennett acknowledged that TBAs may have a role to play because of their access to communities and the relationships they share with women in local communities. Developing a mechanism to integrate TBAs into outreach efforts may have beneficial impacts if women are able to access skilled care through a relationship with a TBA. Further research is needed on this topic.
For more information in the hospital and obstetric fistula, visit the sites linked above, the GMHC 2010 sessions page where you can find a number of presentations on fistula, and the Fistula Care website.