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Ethiopian Mamitu Gashe saved by Australian fistula doctor Catherine Hamlin now Africa’s top surgeon

When Mamitu Gashe met Australian doctor Catherine Hamlin in 1963, she was incontinent and illiterate. Fifty seven years later, she is one of Africa’s top surgeons.


An illiterate surgeon raised barefoot in the mountains of Ethiopia grew up to become the ‘future of African medicine’ – and she still can’t read or write.

Mamitu Gashe was 16 when she went into labour with her first child in a mud hut in her highland village in 1963.

She spent four days in excruciating pain before her baby son died inside her, causing an obstetric fistula – a devastating injury sustained during traumatic childbirth which leaves women incontinent, uncontrollably leaking urine and faeces for what is often the rest of their lives.

Fate brought her to the capital, Addis Ababa, where she was treated by legendary Australian doctor Catherine Hamlin – a woman who would become her mentor, surrogate mother and lifelong friend.

Eternally indebted for her second chance at life, Mamitu, now 73, learned to operate on fistulas by placing her hands over the great Sydney surgeon’s and tracing her intricate incisions as she worked to save the women once described as ’20th-century lepers’.

Through drought, famine and murderous regimes, Dr Hamlin devoted her days to this cause before her death at the age of 96 on March 18, 2020.

Seven months later, her grieving protégé and constant companion of 57 years is returning to theatre to continue the legacy of the woman who saved her from what would have otherwise been a life of social ostracism, homelessness and prostitution – the heartbreaking result of inadequate healthcare in the developing world.

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Side by side for 57 years: Legendary Australian obstetrician Dr Catherine Hamlin (left) and her patient-turned-protégé Mamitu Gashe (right), who has been hailed as the ‘future of African medicine’ – despite being unable to read or write

Tens of thousands of women have been given second chances at life by the tireless work started by the Hamlins (right) and continued by Mamitu Gashe (left)

British author Sue Williams was travelling across Ethiopia in 2017 when she received…

By Alice Murphy For Daily Mail Australia

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