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Existence of Dismissal

By the age of eight, country girls in Ethiopia carry most of the water and wood for their family. As a result of poor nutrition and strenuous work, their metabolic output is greater than their caloric intake, thereby causing a stunting of their growth. The girls enter young adulthood with a tiny, bony pelvis. Consequently, 15% of Ethiopian women experience complications during childbirth. Most Ethiopian girls marry soon after their 9th birthday in arranged marriages.

Fistula is an abnormal condition between an inside body organ and the outside world. An Obstetric Fistula is a hole between the vagina and adjoining organs. Unrelieved, prolonged, or obstructed labor, lasting from one to seven days, causes this injury. The constant pressure of the baby's bony head against the mother's bony pelvis damages the internal tissue. Reconstructive surgery, provided at the Hamlin Fistula Hospitals, replaces the lost tissue.

Fistula creates an unyielding inconvenience not only for the woman living with this condition, but also for her family and her entire community. Because of the smell of constantly leaking urine, these women are often shunned from the village and have no means for survival. Many of them go to monasteries to live. Others choose the anonymity of homelessness in a big city, until someone tells them that a cure awaits them in places such as Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital or some of its outreach centers in Bahir Dar, Yirgalem and Mekelle.

Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital is founded by two gynecologists in 1974 - Dr. Catherine Hamlin and her husband, Dr. Reginald Hamlin. All patients of the hospital are women who have suffered from childbirth injuries. 

The success rate at the Hamlin Fistula Hospitals is 83%. Approximately 10% of the women need additional procedures. The hospitals cover all expenses. The International Fistula Foundation provides funding for restoring the health and dignity of women in Ethiopia suffering from this life-altering condition.

Some of the fistula patients go through physiotherapy procedures at Hamlin Fistula Hospitals. These women frequently sit or lie in the fetal position, as their internal muscles have atrophied through years of living with this condition. Many of the women are brought to the hospital in a crawling position. The Hamlin Fistula Hospitals provide special care and physiotherapy for women experiencing drop foot and malnutrition.

Some of the women are so severely damaged that they cannot be cured. These women require lifelong medical care and support. They are sent away to live in a farm village called Desta Mender ("Joy Village"). Women who are sent to Desta Mender to live have the opportunity to get an education. They learn to read and write and can become proficient in skills such as sewing and cooking. They begin to feel useful, generate some income for themselves, and can send money home to their families. Due to their need for constant medical care, they cannot return home in their present condition. The same women are trained to be aid nurses and are sometimes sent to other fistula centers in the country to assist the nursing staff.

Women who are completely cured need to return to the hospital if they become pregnant again.  Their only option is to give birth by Caesarian section, since a vaginal delivery will cause another fistula. After delivery and recovery, the women are sent back to their home villages. The hospital provides them with new dresses and bus fare, enabling them to finally return to their home villages and start a new life.

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