Midwives Day and International Day to End Obstetric Fistula

Posted by Natacha Soto on Monday 27th June 2016

Every 5th and 23rd May mark International Midwives Day and International Day to End Obstetric Fistula respectively. Your donations and support to Ethiopiaid make possible the treatment of fistula and the training of midwives so they can reach remote communities in Ethiopia to provide labour and delivery services, ante-natal and post-natal care, and much more. In fact, thanks to YOU in 2015 over 1,100 babies were safely delivered by newly trained midwives. For the celebrations of Midwives Week, midwifery students from Dundalk Institute of Technology held a Skype call with our students from the Hamlin College of Midwives. After this encounter Donna from DkIT decided to write this piece:


To Addis Ababa with love

When you hear ‘Ethiopia’, it may conjure up images of a country which has been economically and politically challenged for far too long or perhaps you have visions of a faraway exotic, sunny land; filled with colour, culture and smiling faces. Both images would be accurate. The image you wouldn’t necessarily conjure up is a room in DkIT, filled with student midwives, lecturers, the School Management Team and Clinical partners from affiliated hospitals, all gathered around a webcam and talking to some of our contemporaries in that faraway land.  Yet, thanks to technology, that is exactly what we have witnessed. 

The Section of Midwifery in DkIT celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, therefore it was fitting that during International Midwives Week we acknowledged this proud achievement. Perhaps more fitting was that we shared this special birthday with a midwifery school in Ethiopia as the Hamlin College of Midwives, based in the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, was also celebrating its 10th anniversary. 

For those of you who may not know about the Hamlin Fistula Hospital, it is a story worth hearing and a tale worth telling.  It was founded by an Australian couple; Dr. Reg Hamlin OBE and Dr. Catherine Hamlin AC in 1974.  They had travelled to Ethiopia to train midwives when they discovered the terrible plight of the country’s fistula patients.  We as midwives have learned about fistulas in the course of our studies, however, it is something we rarely encounter due to access to health care and health professionals in Ireland.  If I didn’t feel appreciative of something I may have taken for granted before, I certainly did after hearing from the midwifery team who engaged with us today about the horrific struggles so many women in Ethiopia face.

These women have suffered more than any woman should be called upon to endure. To meet only one is to be profoundly moved and calls forth the utmost compassion that the human heart is capable of feeling.”  (Dr. Catherine Hamlin AC)

The vast majority of Ethiopian women have homebirths. However, their homebirths are not the serene, birth pool, midwife attended version we have here in Ireland.  No, these homebirths are a harsh reality, without choice for most of these women, due to a lack of resources and infrastructure and the support of a midwife.  It is a country with a population of nearly 100 million where only 9-10% of women have access to assisted births.  Should there be an obstructed labour, the results can be devastating, with women left labouring for days without professional help. Their babies do not survive.  9000 women die each year during obstructed labour. A further 9000 will survive but due to severe soft tissue damage sustained from their prolonged labours, they will survive with fistulas. A fistula is a medical condition in which a fistula (hole) develops between either the rectum and vagina or between the bladder and vagina after severe or failed childbirth, resulting in incontinence. The aftermath of their labours involve severe morbidity, becoming bedridden for weeks and months. It is a dire situation, further exasperated by the stigma and social isolation the women are faced with due to their incontinence. The misconceptions held around their conditions oftentimes leave them ostracised by their families and communities and the women find themselves injured, traumatised and alone.  They are both physically and psychologically damaged. 

I thought I was the only one with this terrible problem. Since I gave birth to a dead baby boy I have leaked urine constantly. It has eaten away at the skin. The pain is terrible but the shame is much worse. When I came here, I could not believe my eyes, the whole world is here. So many other girls suffering in the same way. This is the first time I have been able to smile since the baby was born.”  (Hamlin Fistula Hospital patient). 

Hamlin Fistula Hospital is an oasis in a land of misery for the women lucky enough to make their way there; usually walking for days. The staff there take a holistic approach to each of the women they treat; recognising both their surgical and psychological needs and individualising their care accordingly. The women are taught skills; crafting necklaces and baskets, which allows them to make their own money for the first time in their lives. Most importantly, they are given hope. In the words of the hospital’s Medical Director Dr. Fekeda; “This is something that can happen anywhere in the world, but what makes the difference is having someone that is skilled enough to recognise the problems and help”.  That help includes midwives and so, Hamlin Midwives College was born, ten years ago - just like us, but not like us at all in so many ways.  The work they do is inspirational, however this blog would become a novel if I wrote about all the good they do.  If this story sounds like one you would like to read more about, please do so here.

Closing words were delivered by Harriet Andrews, Careers Officer with DkIT and Board Member of Ethiopiaid, the driving force behind this newfound relationship. She, her husband and children have very strong ties with Ethiopia and Hamlin College of Midwives, having spent a lot of time working and living in the hospital. Her words, perhaps, best sum it up: “We have so much to learn from each other”.  We look forward to continuing with that learning and building on the relationship we’ve seen begin today.

After we bade adieu to our new friends in Addis Ababa, we did what all good midwives do: Drank tea, ate cake and had a natter! Happy Birthday to both midwifery schools - here’s to the next ten!

Donna Cannon

Year 2 BSc (Hons) in Midwifery, DkIT


Harriet Andrews and two midwifery students will be travelling with the Ethiopiaid team to Addis Ababa to do the Great Ethiopian Run in November in aid of the Hamlin Fistula Hospital. This will be a great opportunity for the students to see some of the projects supported for Ethiopiaid first hand and to grow the relationship between the Irish and the Ethiopian students.



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