A FRENSHAM old girl has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her global fight against childbirth injury.
Catherine Hamlin, an Australian gynaecologist who has spent most of her life in Ethiopia, has revolutionised care of a childbirth injury called obstetric fistula, which occurs when the baby gets stuck in the birth canal and there is no doctor to perform a caesarean section.
As many as two million women (and often teenage girls) worldwide suffer from fistulas. The babies die, and the woman is left incontinent, with urine and sometimes faeces trickling through her vagina.
She is stigmatised. She smells. She is ashamed.
Hamlin and her late husband Reg set up a fistula hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and their work proves that it is possible to repair the injuries cheaply. This hospital trained generations of doctors to repair fistulas and provided a model that has been replicated in other countries.
At a 90th birthday party for Hamlin in January, former patients cheered as she blew out 90 candles on a cake. Her son Richard, referring to the patients she has helped, declared: "Catherine has one son and 35,000 daughters."
Hamlin gave the crowd a pep talk about the need for a big push to improve the world's maternal care. "We have to eradicate Ethiopia of this awful thing that's happening to women: suffering, untold suffering, in the countryside," she said.
"I leave this with you to do in the future, to carry on."
Ethiopia this month nominated Hamlin for the Nobel Peace Prize, and she deserves it. I hope she gets it along with other extraordinary leaders in women's health such as Dr Denis Mukwege of Congo, Dr Hawa Abdi of Somalia, and Edna Adan of Somaliland.
One of the most striking features of Hamlin's work is the way she empowers recovering fistula patients to help in the treatment of others.
Mahabouba Muhammad was sold at age 13 to be the second wife of a 60-year-old man. She became pregnant, delivered by herself in the bush and suffered a severe fistula. Villagers, believing Mahabouba to be cursed, left her for the hyenas. But she fought off the hyenas and - because nerve damage from labour had left her unable to walk - crawled for miles to get help.
At Hamlin's hospital, she underwent surgery and now is a nurse's aide at the hospital.
Lack of medical care makes reproductive health in poor countries a human rights catastrophe.
The cost of a fistula surgery? About $500 to $1000.
It was Hamlin who first put the issue on the global agenda, and she's not stopping. "We're trying to prevent these injuries and wake up the world," Hamlin told me this week.
So for just a moment, let's take a break from covering villains and join in celebrating a doctor who has saved the lives of vast numbers of women - and now counts some of them as colleagues.
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