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Christchurch Physiotherapist Mentors Hamlin Team

Her suitcase crammed with donated training shoes (very helpful for women who have developed a footdrop), underwear (to help hold incontinence pads in place when exercising in the gym) and socks for the cold nights, Christchurch’s Ann Johnson recently visited Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa

Ann is an experienced Women’s Health Physiotherapist who voluntarily took on the role of physiotherapy mentor for Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia in 2019. She was visiting the UK, ready with a suitcase full of donations for the hospital in March 2020, when the COVID pandemic hit. Unfortunately, Ann had to rush home to New Zealand before lockdown started.

While keeping in contact through Zoom sessions, it has been a long wait to resume visiting. Finally, in February 2023, Ann was able to visit again.

Staff asked Ann’s help writing postnatal guidelines for the hospital. Taking World Health Organisation and international guidelines, Ann and Selam, the Lead Physiotherapist, worked to tailor the guidelines to Ethiopia’s local context.

Ann also taught the physiotherapy staff about how to assess women for Pelvic Organ Prolapse caused by childbirth – an issue increasingly presenting in women coming to the hospital.

Here in New Zealand many women are initially treated with physiotherapy, a vaginal pessary (a medical device to hold the prolapse in a good position), and surgery if needed. With samples of pessaries donated by Christchurch Women’s Hospital, the physiotherapists were able to experience how flexible the pessaries are and discuss the pros and cons of different types.

A hidden epidemic of Pelvic Organ Prolapse in Ethiopia occurs because half of Ethiopian women don’t have access to midwifery care in childbirth. Compounded by teenage pregnancy, childhood malnutrition, and carrying heavy loads, prolapse is often left untreated for many years. This painful condition becomes so severe, that for half of these women their uterus hangs into their vagina or outside their bodies.

Like fistula patients, this is traumatic to their physical, mental, social and sexual well-being. Many women are divorced because of their condition – some becoming Nuns.

Yetem one of the physiotherapy assistants proudly wearing her new shoes with an insert to pad the sole to make her feet more comfortable from her footdrop.

One 78-year-old Nun, recently treated and cured at Hamlin Fistula, had Pelvic Organ Prolapse for 40 years. Grateful and happy for her healing, she remarked, “If I had this chance 40 years ago, I wouldn’t have divorced my beloved husband.”

Thanks to volunteers like Ann and our supporters, women with childbirth injuries receive life-changing treatment from Hamlin’s expert medical team.

Help us give hope to every woman.

Keep up to date with our work including the latest news from our programmes in Ethiopia, ways to get involved and how your support can make a difference.
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Hamlin Fistula NZ is committed to providing ongoing support for fistula surgery and for the preventive work of the midwives. The hospital in Addis Ababa has become a centre of excellence to which doctors from other countries come to learn and master the specialist skills of fistula surgery.

Photography credits to Mary F. Calvert, Kate Geraghty, Amber Hooper, Joni Kabana, Joli Wescombe, Natasha Meyer and Martha Tadesse.