Ethiopia-based Australian doctor Catherine Hamlin has been given the Right Livelihood Award for her work with women suffering from fistula injuries due to obstructed labour. The obstetrician and gynaecologist, who is in her mid 80s, will not be attending the award ceremony in Sweden on 4 December for medical reasons, but she will be represented by members of her hospital staff.
Born in Australia in 1924, Hamlin moved to Ethiopia with her late husband Reginald who was also an obstetrician-gynaecologist in the late 1950s to pioneer the surgical treatment of obstetric fistula, a debilitating condition resulting from prolonged obstructed labour that leaves women incontinent. In the 1970s the couple set up the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, which has since become a global centre of expertise in fistula repair and its doctors now treat 2,750 women a year. In addition to the main hospital in the capital there are now also smaller treatment centres in towns and cities in remote areas. Through their work the Hamlins have restored hope and dignity to thousands of women who had been shunned by their communities as well as offering some the possibility of motherhood in future.
Hamlin recounts her experiences in the moving book The Hospital by the River, co-authored with John Little. The book tells of her life and work in Ethiopia against the backdrop of the final years of the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie followed by the Marxist dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam and then the ascent of Meles Zenawi, leader of the ruling Ethiopian People