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“In my village there is an unfortunate tradition of fear around visiting clinics or any other health facilities, whatever our health problem is… that is why I never visited clinic during my entire pregnancy, which I regret. Now I’ve learned our fear was rootless.”

Chaltu, 20, is from a remote village in Ethiopia’s eastern Oromiya region and is a recovering fistula patient. She has recently had successful surgery at Hamlin’s regional Harar Fistula Hospital and when we spoke to her, had just received the news that in two days’ time she could go home.

“I can’t thank you enough for your unconditional love and care” she tells us, “You may think this is just a job but for me and those poor women like me it is like a rebirth.”

Chaltu’s honesty highlights the challenges that Ethiopia faces as the country works to improve maternal health.

Ethiopia has achieved a significant reduction in maternal mortality in the past ten years and is also seeing a reduction in the number of obstetric fistula cases, however, sadly there are still thousands of women who require urgent care each year. 

Over 80 per cent of Ethiopia’s population lives in remote rural areas with little or no access to maternal healthcare and over 70 per cent of women in Ethiopia give birth without a doctor or nurse present.

Chaltu in the ward at Harar fistula hospital

Life before fistula

Chaltu was born and raised in a rural village in Oromiya region around Harar where Hamlin’s outreach center in Eastern Ethiopia is located. Chaltu and her fellow villagers have to walk on foot for hours to get health services at the closest government clinic and many women have traditional home deliveries with no professional support.

Chaltu met her husband and had an arranged marriage when she was around 17 and a year later she became pregnant with her first child. “I was enjoying married life” she told us “it is the life goal most girls of my age in the village dream for”.

However, when the time came for her baby’s delivery, things sadly did not go to plan. Chaltu’s birth was obstructed and she laboured at home for three days. Her mother and the neighbourhood women tried all available medications in the village, and finally when Chaltu had become powerless to push anymore they carried her to the nearest road, to find transport to the government hospital where she was assisted to have a stillbirth.

Chaltu was unconscious when this happened and told us “When I woke up I looked around and asked my mum where my baby is. I was deep in grief from my loss and knowing about my fistula and incontinence worsened everything… It was the hardest time of my life.” she told us.   

Although Chaltu was referred to Hamlin’s Harar Regional Fistula hospital after three months of recovery time, COVID 19 restrictions and political unrest in the region meant she was not able to travel for almost a year “I spent one year lonely, isolated and depressed – it felt like 10 years. My parents and whole family were so worried about me”.

Hope and recovery

Chaltu at Harar Fistula Hospital

In October 2020 Chaltu and her father were finally able to travel to Hamlin’s Harar Fistula Hospital. She was welcomed warmly by the team and given three weeks physical rehabilitation before her fistula surgery. The whole team at Hamlin together with Chaltu’s family were delighted when her surgery was success.

“What surprised me most during my stay at this hospital is the motherly and holistic care I received even during this hard time of pandemic, and all for free. Thank you for giving back my life again.” 

You can support women like Chaltu to receive life changing surgery by donating today.

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