Growing up in a rural village in southwestern Ethiopia, Kuma did not have access to quality maternal health care. As a result, she experienced an obstructed labour at home that resulted in her suffering obstetric fistula injuries. Kuma suffered with fistula for over ten years before she was identified and given life-changing treatment at Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.
Life before fistula
Kuma grew up in a small rural village near Jimma in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. One of seven siblings, Kuma’s only source of income was her family’s farm. After marrying, life remained difficult for Kuma, who had to wake early each morning to get water from far away. Married life did bring some joy: Kuma and her husband started a family and she gave birth to two children. Yet it was the delivery of her third child that would lead to Kuma’s traumatic obstetric fistula injuries.
As she had done for the birth of her first two children, Kuma prepared to give birth to her third child at home. As the nearest government medical clinic was a three hour walk from her house, Kuma did not visit health professionals at any stage of her pregnancy. This was the same for the other women in her village, who also did not access medical help during pregnancy due to the inaccessibility of the clinic. Additionally, common misconceptions about the effectiveness of health professionals – such as the belief that doctors and medical equipment risk harming the foetus during routine check-ups – have engendered mistrust in the community towards health clinics, meaning that almost all births in Kuma’s village are unattended by a medical professional.
After a painful day of obstructed labour, Kuma was carried to a medical clinic on a homemade stretcher. On the second day of her labour, Kuma gave birth with the assistance of medical professionals. While Kuma’s baby had luckily survived, the prolonged and obstructed labour had resulted in obstetric injuries.
The trauma of obstetric fistula
Suffering a fistula injury was a turning point in Kuma’s life. “At the start, my family and I were so happy to be pregnant with our third child and the first daughter of the family. I thought the incontinence was the aftermath of the long labour and would soon stop. But it didn’t go away and I stayed with the problem for the past ten years. A horrific ten years of my life,” recalls Kuma.
Just weeks after the traumatic birth of her third child, Kuma’s husband tragically passed away. Because of her health and financial circumstances, Kuma was abandoned by her own family and left to support her three children alone. She continued to work on the farm and raise her children without receiving treatment for her fistula injuries.
Kuma suffered like this for ten long years. Some years ago, she heard of the free fistula-repair treatment provided by Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, but was unable to afford the bus fare and find someone to take care of her children while she received treatment.
The hope of outreach
Kuma and two other women suffering from fistula were identified by an agent in Jimma working with the United Nations’ Population Fund (UNFPA). They transported the women to Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, where the women began treatment for their fistula injuries. Kuma stayed for several months at the hospital after being diagnosed with goitre, for which she was first treated. In December 2020, Kuma received her first and final successful surgery, curing her of her fistula injuries once and for all.
Reunited with her children once again
Kuma’s story shows the importance of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia’s work to reach women from all over Ethiopia suffering from fistula. By working alongside global organisations such as the UNFPA and through the work of Hamlin’s Patient Identification Officers, Hamlin is working to ensure a future where distance from maternal health care is not a barrier for women to receive treatment for fistula.
“No one is as happy as I am now. I’m no longer ashamed and I cannot wait to meet my lovely children and hug them joyfully, as I haven’t done for the past ten years. You guys are life givers. If it was not for you I could have died by now and left my children orphaned. I want to thank every single person involved in changing my life,” rejoices Kuma.
With one surgery, Kuma’s life was changed entirely. Help us find more women suffering from fistula in Ethiopia and support them with life-changing care by making a donation here.
Written by Anna Norden, intern at the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation.