Book Review: The Hospital By the River, by Dr. Catherine Hamlin

About 13 months ago, I (Helen) shared a a short blog post series called And…Action. This series came out of Michael and I leading an intercession time on the issue of gender inequality. The third post in that series focused on health care, and the lack of care available to many women throughout the world. Because boys and men are valued more highly in many nations, families and governments are often less willing to finance the care needed by women, particularly in the areas of pregnancy and birthing. One particular symptom of this tragic worldview is the occurrence of obstetric fistula, which I previously described as thus:

Many women die in childbirth in the developing world, but others are left with fistulas. Fistula is a little-known or talked about subject in the West, because it is virtually unseen here. In Africa and much of Asia, however, where many of the women giving birth are actually young teenagers, and where FGM is an ongoing issue, almost 100,000 women suffer from fistula every year. An obstetric fistula occurs “when the baby’s head puts too much pressure on the mother’s maternal tissues, cutting off the supply of blood. The tissue dies, leaving a hole – or fistula – which causes urine and feces to leak uncontrollably. The shame and stigma is simply unimaginable. Many women are rejected by their husbands, family and friends and left to suffer all alone” ( In addition to the smell that results from fistula (resulting in shame and stigma), women with fistula often cannot walk or stand because of the nerve damage which is a by-product of fistula. Because of the constant leak of urine, women with fistula often develop wounds on their legs because of the acid eating away at the skin (And…Action {Part Three: Health Care}).

Fistula is a horrendous outcome of the lack of valuing women specifically in the area of health care, but as I read about this tragic condition, it became apparent that something is being done about it. Fistulas can be repaired by surgery, and there are some champions of this surgery at work in the world, many of them motivated by the love of Christ. Gynaecologists Catherine and Reg Hamlin are two of these champions. They left Australia in 1959 with the mission of establishing a midwifery school in Ethiopia, but decades later, Catherine Hamlin is still there, running the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, which opened in 1974.


Dr. Catherine Hamlin with women treated by the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. Photo from

About two months ago, I came across a post via “A Mighty Girl,” celebrating Catherine Hamlin, and wishing her a happy 91st birthday. The post highlighted her decades of work with “fistula pilgrims” in Ethiopia, and recommended The Hospital By the River as further reading. The Hospital By the River is Dr. Hamlin’s autobiography, and is filled with stories of heartbreak and hope, as she and her late husband, Reg, established a hospital for “these…women most to be pitied in the world. They’re alone and forgotten, bearing their injuries and silent shame” (Dr. Catherine Hamlin).


The Hamlins, with their team of surgeons, have operated on over 25,000 women, and have taught many gynaecologists throughout Africa and developing nations, the techniques of this life-altering surgery. Dr. Catherine Hamlin’s story is one of God’s call on a couple’s life; it is tremendously inspirational and moving, and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

To learn more about the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, go to Unfortunately, financial gifts are not set up for Canadians through this website, but I understand World Vision Canada is a supporter of this hospital. I didn’t find any specific links through which you could give to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital on World Vision’s website, but you can donate $100 through World Vision Canada’s gift catalogue towards pre-natal and post-natal care for mother and child. This gift is matched by the Canadian government, multiplying its value. (Fistula is unheard of in the West because of the pre-natal and pregnancy care women receive, and fistula prevention partially comes down to women receiving assistance during childbirth.) If you want to give specifically towards fistula surgery, Christian Blind Mission raises funds for women to receive treatment; each surgery costs approximately $400. You can learn more about their work with fistula patients through their website, at


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s