Mamitu Gashe: Meet Africa’s Top Surgeon Who Cannot Read Or Write

For most of us, we give up on life these days, especially when we are not as educated as the ones that are living amongst us, but that was not the case with a woman from Africa.

An illiterate little kid that was raised barefoot in the mountains of Ethiopia grew up to become the future of African medicine.

The best thing about her? She still could not read or write.

Mamitu Gashe was just 16 when she went into labor with her first child in a mud hut in her highland village. That happened way back in 1963.

Gashe reportedly spent 4 days in excruciating pain before her baby son passed away inside her.

This caused an obstetric fistula, an injury that is called by medics as “devastating”. This usually happens during traumatic childbirth, which leaves women incontinent, uncontrollably leaking urine and faeces for what is often the rest of their lives.

One day, she was brought to Addis Ababa, the capital of her place, where she was reportedly treated by Catherine Hamlin, a legendary doctor from Australia.

Little did she know at that point Dr. Hamlin would become her surrogate mother, her mentor, and her lifelong friend.

Gashe, who is now 73, learned how to operate on fistulas by placing her hands over the great Sydney Surgeon’s and tracing her intricate incisions.

She ended up saving countless lives.

Dr. Hamlin passed away at the age of 96 this year on March 18.

7 months later, Gashe returned to surgery in order to continue the legacy of the woman that saved her from death or from living a life that would have left her homeless or pretty harsh.

Who Is Mamitu Gashe?

Mamitu Gashe is an Ethiopian surgeon that is a specialist in repairing obstetric fistula. In the year 2018, she was named 100 Women list of 2018.

She had decided to become an obstetrics surgeon after dying during childbirth at the age of 16 in the year 1962.

Gashe was brought to the Princess Tsehai Hospital that offered free surgery for the condition that she had at the time.

After the surgery, which was carried out by Dr. Hamlin, she helped out making beds.

She ended up assisting Australian surgeon Catherine Hamlin and New Zealand surgeon Reginald Hamlin.

In the year 1974, she joined the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, which was found by the Hamlins. At first, she was tasked to hand the doctors the requested medical tools.

After a bunch of years, she started suturing and then moved on to undertake surgery.

Hamlin trained her in how to repair fistulas despite having no clue on how to read and write.

She is currently regarded as one of the institution’s leading fistula surgeons. She also trains new post-graduate doctors at the institution.

The work of Reginald Hamlin, Catherine Hamlin, and Mamitu Gashe was recognized by the RCS (Royal College of Surgeons) of England. They also gave them a Gold Medal for their outstanding work and for saving countless lives.

How It All Happened

The Hamlins allowed Mamitu to watch them as they performed surgery. They also started to encourage her to assist them by sponging blood, cutting wires, and even sewing wounds.

As she started to become more comfortable, she would rest her hands on theirs and would memorize every step as they guided her through intricate incisions.

Mamitu Gashe is known for being really gentle in the things that she does.

She also has great eyesight, this allows her to see tiny little openings that are needed to be repaired without using any instruments.

That’s how good she is!

The Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital is the world’s only medical facility that offers free repair surgery that offers impoverished women after childbirth.

Since the day the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital was opened, over 30,000 women of all religions and backgrounds have been operated and treated free of charge.

Mamitu has helped most of them.

The Barefoot Surgeons’

Today, Mamitu is part of a unique group in Africa that is known as “barefoot surgeons”. They are non-medically qualified practitioners that are changing the face of African Medicine.

They do not have any formal training.

Surgeons like Mamitu typically specialize in one area, which they have painstakingly learned through observation and natural skill.

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