Intended for healthcare professionals


Catherine Hamlin: internationally renowned humanitarian and fistula surgeon

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: (Published 27 April 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m1661
  1. Barbara Kermode-Scott
  1. Vancouver Island, Canada
  1. kermodeb{at}
Credit: Kate Geraghty

Thanks to Australian obstetrician and gynaecologist Catherine Hamlin (née Nicholson), the lives and health of more than 60 000 Ethiopian teenage girls and women, and countless others globally, had much happier outcomes than would otherwise have been the case. Twice nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize (1999 and 2014), Hamlin dedicated six decades of her long life to the prevention and treatment of obstetric fistula. She transformed the lives of poor, rural mothers for whom childbirth had been a disaster.

Hamlin died in her modest cottage in the compound of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, a hospital she co-founded in 1974 with her husband, Reginald Hamlin (“Reg”). An honorary (2012) and eminent (2019) citizen of Ethiopia, Catherine died in the home and land she loved, surrounded by the people, patients, and staff that she adored. A gentle, kind, and charismatic woman with a reassuring smile, Catherine was known fondly and simply as emaye or mother in Ethiopia.

Life and career

Hamlin was born in Ryde, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, to Elinor and Theodore Nicholson. When a resident at Crown Street Women’s Hospital she fell in love with the medical superintendent, Reg. They married on …

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