“The Saint of Addis Ababa”, Dr Catherine Hamlin, laid to rest

23 Mar 2020

World-renowned obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Catherine Hamlin, who devoted her life to Ethiopia, passed away peacefully on 18th March, at her home in the grounds of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia where she had lived for 61 years. She was 96.

Dr Hamlin, together with her late husband Dr Reginald Hamlin OBE, co-founded Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, a healthcare centre treating women who suffer from the debilitating effects of obstetric fistula – a crippling condition that results from complications in childbirth.

In 1958, the Hamlins answered an advertisement in The Lancet medical journal for gynaecologists to set up a school of midwifery in Addis Ababa. Together with their six-year-old son, Richard, they travelled to Ethiopia to take up the contract. What had been intended as a three-year stay in Addis Ababa turned into a lifetime of service to the Ethiopian people.

Dr Hamlin with Mamitu Gashe in 1994. Mamitu was one of the women who Dr Hamlin and her husband treated in the early days, when they worked at Princess Tsehai Hospital. Trained by the Hamlins, Mamitu is now an internationally respected fistula surgeon.

Today, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is a healthcare network of over 550 Ethiopian staff – many trained by Catherine – servicing six hospitals, Desta Mender rehabilitation centre, the Hamlin College of Midwives and 80 Hamlin supported Midwifery Clinics.

Over the past 61 years, more than 60,000 Ethiopian women have received the life-changing reconstructive surgery for obstetric fistula.

“My dream is to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever. I won’t do this in my lifetime, but you can in yours.”

Leading tributes, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tweeted, “I express my deep sorrow at the passing of Dr Catherine Hamlin. Ethiopia has lost a true gem who dedicated more than sixty years to restoring the dignity of thousands of women. I wish her loved ones, friends and colleagues comfort. May she Rest In Peace.”

President Sahle-Work Zewde said, “Dr Hamlin was a hero who saved more than sixty thousand Ethiopian women and girls from obstetric fistula; a physically and psychologically traumatizing condition which caused many women and girls to be ostracized from their communities. I am confident that the many professionals trained under Dr Hamlin throughout the years will continue the work she started at the Fistula Hospital she founded; the only one of its kind in Ethiopia.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom, World Health Organisation Director General and former Ethiopian Minister of Health said, “This news breaks my heart. Thank you Catherine for the vast legacy you leave for the women and girls of Ethiopia and the world. You were the best of humanity and very special.  We all must continue carrying your mission forward.”

Her biographer John Little described her as a “marvel” and quoted The New York Times which wrote “Dr Hamlin is the new Mother Teresa of our age.”

Committed to ensuring Catherine’s dream to eradicate obstetric fistula in Ethiopia becomes a reality, Tesfaye Mamo, Chief Executive Officer of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, said, “Most of her 96 years were generously given to help the poor women of our country with traumatic birth injuries. We are all thankful for Catherine’s lifelong dedication. We promise to continue her legacy and realise her dream to eradicate fistula from Ethiopia. Forever.”

In 2012, the Ethiopian Government awarded Catherine an Honorary Ethiopian Citizenship and in 2019 Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed presented her with the Eminent Citizen Award in recognition of her lifetime of service to the women of Ethiopia. She was also twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and received numerous awards.

Prime Minister Abiy with Dr Hamlin in 2019

In 2020 Catherine celebrated her 61st year in Ethiopia, where she lived most of her life, in her original house in the grounds of her Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, adored by her patients, staff and the Ethiopian people. She was often referred to as “Emaye” meaning Mother. Catherine was not just committed to spending her life treating thousands of women, she spent her whole adult life changing lives – for the better.

During the last years of her life, Catherine was confident that her legacy would live on:

“When I die, this place will go on for many, many years until we have eradicated fistula altogether – until every woman in Ethiopia is assured of a safe delivery and a live baby.”

Catherine was buried at the St Peter and St Paul Catholic Cemetery in Addis Ababa. At the 60th anniversary celebrations in 2019, Catherine said, “I love Ethiopia and I have loved every day here. Ethiopia is my home.”

Catherine is survived by her only son Richard and his four adult children: Sarah, Paul, Catherine and Stephanie, two great grandchildren, her sister Ailsa Pottie and brothers Donald and Jock Nicholson.

Latest News

Browse all
Ambassador Teferi responds to the 17th January 2021 article in the Telegraph titled, “Churches and mosques in Tigray 'vandalised and looted' in Ethiopian purge.” - “The facts on the ground are entirely detached from the situation painted herein by TPLF affiliates and those fooled by their campaign of misinformation.
22 Jan 2021
Statement to The Telegraph
Amid the rapid rise in infections attributed to the spread of a new variant of COVID-19 across the United Kingdom, a new national lockdown was announced on 4 January 2021 to control the spread of the virus. Effective immediately, all appointment-based consular and diaspora services are suspended, until further notice.
5 Jan 2021
Service Update: Our Approach to the new lockdown restrictions
"Rising Ethiopia" በሚል መሪ ቃል ከዲሴምበር 20 ቀን 2020 እስከ ፌብርዋሪ 21 ቀን 2021 ኢትዮጵያ አገራችን በቱሪዝም፣ በንግድ  እና በኢንቨስትመንት መስኮች ያሏትን እምቅ ሀብቶች ለአለም አቀፉ ማህበረሰብ የሚያስተዋውቅ የማህበራዊ ሚዲያ ዘመቻ በዩኬ ነዋሪ በሆኑት ዶ/ር በላቸው ተስፋ ሀሳብ አመንጪነት፣ በውጭ ጉዳይ ሚኒስቴር አስተባባሪነትና በባህልና ቱሪዝም ሚኒስቴር፣ በቱሪዝም ኢትዮጵያ፣ በኢትዮጵያ ኢንቨስትመንት ኮሚሽን እንዲሁም በሁሉም አገራት ባሉ የኢትዮጵያ ኤምባሲዎች ተሳትፎ የተጀመረ ሲሆን…
4 Jan 2021
የዳያስፖራ ቢዝነስ ሳምንት
It has been two months since the TPLF clique has launched its onslaught on the Ethiopian Defence Forces stationed in Mekelle. What they call ‘a pre-emptive lightning’ attack has unveiled the true nature of the group both to the international community and the people of Ethiopia.
1 Jan 2021
The law enforcement operation in Tigray and the media: Lessons learnt
The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) announced that the national elections will be held on 5th June 2021. The elections were postponed from 29th August 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
29 Dec 2020
2021 Elections to be held in June
When I took office as Prime Minister of Ethiopia in April 2018, I had only one driving mission for my premiership – to put my country and people on a path to lasting peace and prosperity. I vowed to myself, my family and my people, that I would never resort to force as a way of resolving internal political differences.
24 Dec 2020
Operations to Restore Law and Order in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region: How Did We Get Here?
With parts of the UK now under tougher COVID-19 restrictions, we have come up with some ideas to keep you busy and make the most of the ‘stay at home’ order… from cooking to virtual marathons and new books, we have you covered.
21 Dec 2020
On behalf of diplomats and staff members at the Ethiopian Embassy in London, and my family, and I would like to extend our very best wishes on the advent of Christmas and the New year to the Ethiopian community and friends of Ethiopia in the United Kingdom.
21 Dec 2020
Festive Message from the Ambassador
Ethiopian Airlines Group, the largest Aviation Group in Africa, received an award from Airbus, the largest aircraft manufacturer, for the unique agility and resilience it displayed amid the global COVID-19 crisis.
17 Dec 2020
Ethiopian Airlines receive Airbus award for Agility and Resilience During the global COVID–19 Pandemic
On 12th December, global climate leaders took a major stride towards a resilient, net-zero emissions future, presenting ambitious new commitments, urgent actions and concrete plans to confront the climate crisis. Ethiopia's Prime Minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed, addressed the Summit.
16 Dec 2020
PM Abiy addresses Climate Ambition Summit