OBSTETRIC FISTULA: A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH FOR MANY AFRICAN WOMEN
In the African culture, a woman’s pride and dignity is in her ability to provide multiple children for her husband, her major role is in that of creation. Obstetric Fistula occurs when a woman withstands days of obstructed labour; a condition where the uterus is contracting normally but the baby does not exit the pelvis because it is physically blocked. In most cases, the baby dies and if the mother lives, she’s left with a hole between her vagina and her bladder, causing her to lose control over her urine (urinary tract) or bowel content.
Obstetric fistula is a mouthful. But to these women, it’s much more than just a physical injury. They see themselves as the walking dead. – Dr. Justin Paluku.
In Africa, a woman with fistula is eventually ejected out of her husband’s house and shunned by her village people because of her foul smell and inability to bear more children. More often than none a woman with fistula doesn’t know what fistula is or that it can be corrected with surgery.
Most of those who suffer this fate are uneducated and they live in the rural areas with no access to antenatal care and hospitals, they have their babies delivered to them by local midwives with inadequate training.
65% of women living with fistula are victims of forced marriages (female children, less than 18). Sadly, that accounts for 12 million girls each year, 23 girls every minute and nearly 1 every 2 seconds. Obstetric fistula accounts for up to 6% of all maternal death. The main causes of fistula are poverty, sound education and malnutrition. Malnutrition leads to stunting, which is the underdevelopment of a female child’s pelvis which leads to obstructed labour and then fistula.
Typical western African hospitals lack trained staff, equipment and resources to treat fistula, therefore, some women resort to the use of herbs in an attempt to cure fistula which ends in disappointment. It isn’t rare to find a woman with Fistula develop a chronic skin disease which is caused by the direct irritation of urine. Sometimes, there are blisters on her thighs caused by urinary incontinence and friction.
Obstetric fistula is both preventable and treatable.
It can be prevented by putting an end to the girl child marriages and providing women in labour with adequate and timely obstetric care when complications arise.
However, the only cure for Obstetric fistula is surgical treatment.
Do you know anyone living with fistula? Tell them to get help by contacting the following not-for-profit organisations; the United Nations Population Fund, Healing Hands of Joy, Foundation Orange and Mercy Ships.