Intended for healthcare professionals


John Kelly

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 01 November 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6607
  1. Mairead Kelly, Shane Duffy

John Kelly became a world authority on obstetric fistula, having spent 45 years operating on thousands of women in the poorest parts of Africa and Asia. He set out to save these marginalised women from the indignity of fistula and the horrifying consequences of this condition.

Having qualified from Glasgow University in 1956, Kelly learned his trade of obstetrics and gynaecology at the London Hospital in Whitechapel. He then took up a consultant and senior lecturer position in Birmingham, where he met his wife, Christine. It was on a sabbatical in Nigeria in 1967, while the Biafran war raged, that Kelly first observed the devastating and preventable condition of obstetric fistula. It helped change his life. He met women who had been ostracised by their husbands and communities because of incontinence after obstructed labour; some had been driven to the point of suicide.

In 1969 he returned to Africa, joining a pioneering husband and wife team in Ethiopia: Reginald and Catherine Hamlin. They had founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital and were overwhelmed by the sheer scale of what turned out to be a silent epidemic. Kelly continued to help there every year during his annual leave, sometimes working in …

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