May 23rd, 2014
Today marks the first anniversary of the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, announced last year by the United Nations. And while there are many “days” to help the global health and development communities raise awareness about pressing challenges, fistula holds a special significance.
Two decades ago, a surgeon in Ethiopia, Dr. Catherine Hamlin, made an appeal for absorbable sutures for use in surgeries to repair obstetric fistula, a debilitating childbirth injury that causes uncontrollable leaking of feces or urine. Women suffering from fistula are often shunned by their husbands and communities, and forced to live in isolation.
Sheila Rinning, who worked in the export department in Edinburgh, Scotland for Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, responded to Dr. Hamlin’s call. Little did she know that this would be the beginning of a partnership that has lasted nearly two decades, and led to thousands of life-saving surgeries for women in need.
Following Dr. Hamlin’s appeal, Sheila devoted time each month to prepare four separate packages containing absorbable and silk sutures for use in fistula surgeries. Why separate? The postal service couldn’t reliably deliver the package to their destination in Ethiopia – so four packages were sent separately, with the hope that at least one would make it to the destination in Addis Ababa.