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Reaching women in rural Ethiopia: your support in action

When our founders Drs Catherine and Reg Hamlin arrived in Ethiopia over 60 years ago, they could not have imagined what they would go on to achieve for the women of Ethiopia. From their early work supporting maternity services in at the Princess Tsehai Memorial Hospital in Addis Ababa, Catherine and Reg went on to found the now world-renowned Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in 1974.

Over the years, Catherine realised the extent of the challenge of fistula in Ethiopia, and in response to this, went on to establish five regional fistula hospitals throughout Ethiopia to serve the millions of women living in isolated rural communities.

Map of hospitals in Ethiopia
Hamlin’s regional fistula hospitals are located across Ethiopia

Obstetric fistula is a condition which disproportionately affects women in poor, remote, rural communities where maternal health services are hard to access.

Today, Hamlin is supporting the training and deployment of midwives to government health clinics across the country through our prevention programme, however for many women living in remote areas, health clinics can still take many hours to walk to.

In rural areas of Ethiopia a large proportion of women give birth at home, without a midwife or doctor present. This leads to a higher incidence of childbirth injuries including obstetric fistula. The majority of women who develop fistula have also suffered a stillbirth, and to compound their tragedy are often left incontinent and isolated from their communities. Hamlin’s regional hospitals provide a lifeline to these women.

Changing lives in Southern Ethiopia

One of Hamlin’s regional hospitals is the Yirgalem Regional Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia’s southern Sidama region. Established in 2006, Yirgalem Hospital is located 190 miles south of the capital Addis Ababa, a journey that takes about five hours by car on a narrow road that traverses the Great Rift Valley.

Yirgalem Fistula Hospital
Yirgalem Regional Fistula Hospital

As the main referral hospital for women with fistula from all 41 government hospitals and 714 health centres in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s region and Sidama Region, Yirgalem Regional Fistula Hospital provides vital services to the rural community. The area served by the hospital is largely rural and most people rely on subsistence agriculture to survive. It’s a diverse area with many different cultures and languages found across the region.

Yirgalem Regional Fistula Hospital is fully funded by you, Hamlin Fistula UK supporters, and it is only with your help that we are able to provide these vital regional services for women. Last year 277 surgeries were provided for women at Yirgalem, including treatment for obstetric fistula, pelvic organ prolapse and caesarean sections for past fistula patients to have safe deliveries.

The hospital team also works closely with rural community health centres staffed by Hamlin-trained midwives to provide pre- and post- natal support to women. Last year Hamlin midwives provided skilled delivery support for 8,294 births – all fistula free.

A warm welcome for patients from a dedicated team

The hospital is managed by experienced public health professional Mr Amare Desta. Specialist surgeon Dr Biniyam Sirak leads a medical team of nursing sisters, a pharmacist, anaesthetist, and nurses’ aides, many of which trained at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. Head Nurse Sister Sara and her staff have an unwavering commitment to helping women. A dedicated group of administrative and support workers complete the team at the hospital.

Dr Biniyam with patients at Yirgalem Regional Fistula Hospital

As with all our hospitals, patients arriving at Yirgalem are welcomed with a comforting knitted blanket and nutritious food. Following an assessment, a customised programme is developed for each patient that includes counselling, physiotherapy, surgical repair and rehabilitation. 

For fistula patients, in most cases their injury can be repaired with a single life-changing surgery that can take just two hours. Women are able to return to their families and communities with their health, happiness and confidence restored.

Looking ahead – Exciting plans for Yirgalem

In the coming year we want to reach even more women in the Sidama and Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s regions. We are increasing our team’s community outreach activities so we can identify more women suffering with untreated fistula in rural areas and support them to access free treatment.

We have set an ambitious goal to carry out over 600 surgeries at Yirgalem and to support this work, we will be welcoming a second experienced surgeon to the team and additional nurses and healthcare staff.

Thanks to your support, more women who have suffered devastating childbirth injuries will be empowered to regain a happy, healthy life.

‘’We are grateful for the supporters of Hamlin Fistula UK and their donations to support our work here at Yirgalem Regional Fistula Hospital. I want to say a big thank you and we hope you will continue your vital support’’.

Head Nurse, Sister Sara

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