Generous, hardworking and unstoppable, 88 year old gynecologist Dr. Catherine Hamlin is the co-founder of Hamlin Fistula Hospital. Located in Ethiopia, this medical centre provides free health care to women who suffer from debilitating child birth complications called obstetric fistula. Dr. Hamlin arrived in Ethiopia in 1959 with her husband Reginald Hamlin to train midwives in Addis Ababa. But even after their contract was over she and her husband stayed in Ethiopia to provide life saving surgery to women from every part of Ethiopia. In a remarkable demonstration of character, Dr. Catherine Hamlin continued to live and give to Ethiopia even after her husband died in 1993. She works tirelessly to raise funds so women can receive free medical treatment in her hospitals. In a June 2012 visit to Ethiopia I visited a rehab centre in Desta Menda which was established by Dr. Hamlin to treat more severe cases of fistula. Beyond medical treatment, the women who are admitted to Desta Menda are also taught various skills like poultry farming so when they are discharged they can become self sufficient members of their community.
Dr. Hamlin’s selfless commitment to the welfare of women makes her an angel on earth.
I was shocked to see images of Alicia Keys, Justin Timberlake and Serena Williams lying in coffins. They had staged their Digital Deaths on World AIDS day to raise awareness on the HIV AIDS epidemic . Alicia Keys who is spearheading this movement is the impassioned co-founder of Keep A Child Alive, a non profit organization that provides support to families affected by HIV/AIDs. On December 1st, she unveiled http://buylife.org where fellow celebrities like Usher have committed not to update their Facebook or Twitter accounts until $1,000,000 is raised to support the cause. No matter how you feel about these attention grabbing headlines, you cannot deny that the overarching message is a powerful one. As of 2009, over 33.3 million people worldwide live with HIV/AIDS and unfortunately, they continue to suffer from ostracization and stigma that comes from a lack of awareness about the disease.
One such myth was addressed on a recent Oprah show when Bridget, a woman living with HIV sharply set Oprah straight on the truth about living with HIV. Bridget explained that she had spiralled into a state of depression when she found out that she had been infected with HIV by her Down-low cheating husband. Oprah attempted to encourage Bridget to emulate how Magic Johnson is still living a great life irrespective of his HIV status. This statement sparked a heated exchange where Bridget correctly explained that the average HIV positive person does not have access to the same level of medical care, nutritionist, and personal trainers that Magic Johnson can afford.
Indeed, most of us are oblivious to the realities of living with HIV. We repeat what we have read about the remarkable advances of Anti Retroviral drugs without acknowledging the health toll associated with low CD4+T cell numbers, loss of appetite, lack of energy or how to adjust to the gruelling challenges of HIV. The least we can do to help is to hold back on stigma infused judgement and support causes (like buylife.org) that raise awareness on how to beat HIV/AIDS.