June 24, 2020
For years, Jallene needlessly endured the agony of obstetric fistula without any medical attention. Thanks to a new Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia initiative, Jallene was identified by Hamlin-trained health officers and taken to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital for treatment. Jallene’s story is one of sacrifice, suffering and, ultimately, the renewal of hope.
Life before fistula
Jallene is from a remote village near Asossa, the capital of the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia. Like most of the women in her village, Jallene has spent most of her life farming the same small plot of land along with her family. Their subsistence farming would generate a little money – the sole source of income for the entire family – but life was not easy for Jallene and her five children.
During her sixth pregnancy, Jallene lost her baby; her seventh pregnancy would result in even more tragedy. When Jallene conceived again, she thought her pregnancy would proceed as usual. Living in a remote village meant that access to antenatal care in the city was extremely limited; as with her previous pregnancies, she was unable to visit a clinic. Unlike her previous pregnancies, Jallene experienced a prolonged and obstructed labour.
Jallene tried to deliver at home, to no avail. After two days of pain, she was taken to a nearby government clinic where she eventually delivered a stillborn child. In addition to the anguish of losing a child, Jallene suffered a devastating fistula injury.
The harsh reality of fistula bears out in the numbers. Seven in every ten women in rural Ethiopia give birth without any medical care. Lack of access to a qualified midwife increases the likelihood of a woman experiencing an obstructed labour. Where an obstructed labour is neglected or allowed to continue without intervention, a stress incontinence or an obstetric fistula will develop. A staggering 93% of the women who suffer an obstetric fistula injury give birth to a stillborn baby.
Struggling to live
For many fistula sufferers. the isolation of fistula is as harmful as the physical debilitation of fistula. Jallene’s social support systems crumbled in the wake of her fistula injury. “After this injury, husband abandoned me and I started to struggle to feed my children by myself. It was too difficult: I had to work tirelessly on the farm as well. During those days I had no friends and would never mix at any social gatherings. I just lived alone with my children,” explains Jallene.
Jallene lived with the debilitating pain of fistula – and single-handedly supported her three sons and two daughters – for ten years. It was not until earlier this year that Jallene’s injury was identified and she was brought to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital for treatment as part of Hamlin’s Patient Identification Program. It was the first time she had received medical attention since she has suffered the childbirth injury.
The Patient Identification Program trains local health officers to undergo their work with the utmost sensitivity. Hamlin-trained health officers are able to identify obstetric fistula injuries, talk to women with empathy and sensitivity, and offer counselling to women who have suffered in silence for so long. The identified fistula patients are brought to the closest Hamlin Fistula Hospital where they undergo fistula repair surgery and comprehensive, holistic treatment free of charge. The first phase of the program earlier this year identified 24 fistula patients.
A promising future
Upon her arrival at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in May, Jallene underwent heath checks and preoperative physiotherapy. After this, Jallene had surgery to repair her complex fistula injury. She is now using a catheter and able to socialise with other patients. Hamlin medical staff find Jallene’s case to be very promising and believe there to be a good chance that she will be fully cured.
“I regret not knowing about Hamlin and coming at the earliest possible opportunity to experience such joyful dryness. I have no words to explain my gratitude for everybody at the hospital. They have worked so hard with the current pandemic and gave me such motherly care,” reflects Jallene.
Hamlin’s new Patient Identification Program seeks and treat to find the countless women who, like Jallene, have suffered in silence from the indignity of fistula. You can help care for fistula patients like Jallene by donating today.