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.
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.”