Many of us, you and I included could be walking with some conditions only you, your doctor and to some extend your close family know about. This is not the same to a woman affected by fistula as her condition is an open book for anyone with a sense of smell; such a woman is singled out and her condition exposed by virtue of her smelling.
Fistula is the gravest dehumanizing condition affecting many girls and women in developing countries. It is a real threat to a woman’s dignity as it deprives a woman her self-esteem leading to withdrawal due to stigmatization. When you are smelly, you definitely become a social outcast.
For those who did not know, May 23 is the United Nations’ (UN) International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, which promotes action towards treating and preventing obstetric fistula. This year’s theme is, “Tracking Fistula – Transforming Lives”
In 2003 the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and its partners launched the global Campaign to End Fistula, a collaborative initiative to prevent fistula and restore the health of those affected by the condition. In 2012, the UN announced that it would observe International Day to End Obstetric Fistula on May 23 each year, starting in 2013. This therefore will be the second time this day will be observed.
Fistula is a dreadful injury that occurs during prolonged, obstructed labour. This condition harms women physically, socially and economically. Statistics show that at least 2 million women in Africa, Asia and the Arab region are living with the condition, with about 50,000 to 100,000 new cases each year.
According to Sister Christine Muthengi, the coordinator of Fistula programme at the Kenyatta National Hospital, obstructed labour occurs when a mother labours for more than 24 hours. Reasons for prolonged labour are numerous but Sister Christine Muthengi highlighted the following key reasons: poverty; conception at a tender age when the pelvic organs are not matured; ignorance; distance between a woman’s home and the hospital and sadly, culture where by a woman sees no reason of delivering at a health facility yet all her children or her mother-in law’s children (her husband included) have all been delivered at home.
Apart from prolonged labor without prompt medical intervention, surgeries such as a Caesarean section can also cause fistula.
Due to the abnormal opening, a woman with this condition leaks urine or faeces or both and therefore she has to use diapers or rugs to contain the leaking.
“This condition marginalize women, strips them of their dignity, humiliates them and denies them their humanity because family members, friends and neighbours cannot stand the smell of leaking urine, faeces or both”, said Sister Christine Muthengi.
Most women with the condition do not know that treatment is available, and if they do, they most times cannot afford it because such a surgery in Kenya costs 55,000 Kenya shillings an amount that a poor woman who lives under a dollar a day can only dream about.
But Kenyatta National Hospital, through its fistula programme and other partners such as the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) try to restore women dignity by repairing the condition through surgery. AMREF has been involved in Fistula treatment since 1992 in 8 East African Countries through its Amref Clinical Outreach Programme.
Firstly, the patient undergoes counseling to reassure her that the condition is not a killer disease and neither is she cursed nor bewitched. The surgery is then performed by specialists trained to handle the condition and the patient managed for 6 months. During the 6 months, as Sister Christine Muthengi said, the patient is supposed to do the following as part of the healing process:
- Take at least 5-6 liters of water per day from the date of the surgery.
- Maintain high hygienic standards around the surgery area
- Take food rich in proteins
- Refrain from sex for the 6 months
- Go for follow-up clinics after the surgery
If you know someone with this condition, I just have one request; kindly ask them to find their way to Kenyatta National Hospital on 4th July this year for there will be a big2 weeks fistula camp at the facility where women with this condition will receive treatment at no cost. As sister Christine Muthengi confirmed, every time they have the camp, more than 100 women are repaired thus have their dignity restored.
Celebrate this day by sharing this information as widely as possible and thus help in giving a new lease of life to a woman with fistula.