Friday 16 November 2018

'They gave me my life back' - Inside look at the hospital saving the lives of Africa's child brides

Mameye (25) with one-week-old baby Kalkidan
Mameye (25) with one-week-old baby Kalkidan
Nemo (30) with baby Obsi
Dr Catherine Hamlin Photo: Hamlin Fistula
Hamlin Fistula Hospital, Ethiopia
Patients at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital Photo: Hamlin Fistula
The Hamlin Fistula building donated by Oprah Winfrey

Catherine Devine in Ethiopia

At 15-years-old, Mameye was abandoned by her husband and left cradling a stillborn baby that she laboured with for three days.

She was left leaking urine and faeces and was shunned by her community.

Due to a lack of healthcare, the 15-year-old child bride was left with a tear known as a fistula due to her body being too underdeveloped for childbirth.

Mameye, now 25, spoke to Independent.ie about her harrowing experience.

"I was married at 15 and one year later I had my first baby. I laboured for three days before I gave birth to a stillborn baby. I spent one day at home in labour and two days at a local clinic before I was transferred to hospital.

"I lived with a fistula for a year and my husband abandoned me. I moved in with my mother for five years and watched as my husband married another woman and started another family. I was constantly crying with grief and agony. I was so mad at him for leaving me when I was suffering."

Mameye (25) with one-week-old baby Kalkidan
Mameye (25) with one-week-old baby Kalkidan

Mameye was sent to the Hamlin Fistula hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where she underwent three extensive surgeries to repair her fistula.

She moved home again and remarried.

Last month, she welcomed her first baby, a girl named Kalkidan, at the Hamlin Fistula hospital.

"It makes me happy being here and getting help. This hospital changed my life. I am very happy to be a mother."

In Western countries, the tear known as an obstetric fistula was eradicated more than a century ago, and is today almost unheard of.

Despite the injury being preventable, more than two million girls and women in the developing world still suffer from the painful, debilitating condition.

The Hamlin Fistula building donated by Oprah Winfrey
The Hamlin Fistula building donated by Oprah Winfrey

Most of the women live poverty in remote areas with little or no access to health care and often abandoned by their communities.

Women who birth at home, often in far-flung rural areas where hospitals are too far away or expensive to reach, are especially at risk of obstetric fistula - a hole (fistula) that develops between the birth canal and bladder or rectum, caused by prolonged, obstructed labor.

Gynaecologists Catherine and Reg Hamlin arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1959 to set up a school of midwifery. They were appalled when they came across the problem and began to provide fistula surgery for young women.

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Dr Catherine Hamlin Photo: Hamlin Fistula

Today, the Hamlin Fistula hospital is thriving and this year over 4,000 women were treated by the teams.

"We were touched and appalled by the sadness of our first fistula patient: a beautiful young woman in urine-soaked ragged clothes, sitting alone in our outpatients department away from the other waiting patients. We knew she was more in need than any of the others. She had been through a long labour of five days with only the village women to help. And so we saw the first of many fistula sufferers," Catherine Hamlin said.

At 93-years-old, Catherine Hamlin, has received numerous international awards for her work and was nominated for a Nobel peace Prize.

International funding has allowed the Hamlin Fistula hospital to build five regional hospitals as well as a midwifery school which offers scholarships to rural women.

The hospital also fundraises to open health clinics in rural areas so that pregnant women have access to healthcare during their labour.

Nemo (30) from a rural part of Oromia, Ethiopia is currently receiving treatment at the Hamlin Fistula hospital.

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Nemo (30) with baby Obsi

"I laboured for two days at home and I fell into a coma. My family carried me to a nearby clinic where I was referred to the Hamlin Fistula hospital. After days in labour, I gave birth to a stillborn baby. Because I was in labour for so long I developed a fistula and became incontinent.

"I am very thankful for this hospital. They gave me my life back. I am very lucky that my husband stayed with me. After I had my fistula repaired I went home to my family.

"I came back to the Hamlin Fistula hospital when I became pregnant again and I just gave birth to my third child Obsi last week.

"I'll be home soon back in my rural town where I'll spend the day at home, preparing meals for my family. I never thought I would get cured. Now I am saved and I have three children. I am the luckiest woman in the world."

The hospital also offers girls and young women a chance to re-integrate into society. It offers them a chance to learn a new skill such as arts and crafts so that the women can earn a living once they leave.

Communications Officer Aschalew Tadesse told Independent.ie that the women are also given a new dress once they leave the hospital.

"The women are completely transformed. Before they were shunned by their communities and forced to live a life of solitude. Now they are returning home with their health problems fixed and in a brand new dress with new life skills. The hospital is life-changing."

*This article was supported by the Simon Cumbers Media Fund

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