Towards a fistula-free world

Obstetric fistula – a heartbreaking reality

For many women in developing countries, obstetric fistula is a heartbreaking reality, severe in both its physical and emotional effects.

Obstetric fistula is a major public health issue, affecting more than 2 million women around the world. It is endemic among women living in poor rural contexts in many developing countries. The hardship and ostracisation women with fistula suffer is the same from Ethiopia to Bangladesh.

Professor Sayeba Akhter, the Founder of MAMMS Institution of Fistula and Women’s Health in Bangladesh, describes the incredible hardship faced by these women:

“They are leaking urine and stool throughout the whole day and night…usually husbands divorce them, or leave them, abandon them. Not only the husband, even the people around them, even the near and dear ones, don’t keep them in the home.”

Millions of women suffer from obstetric fistula, but only 1 in 50 women globally are able to get treatment (1).

FIGO surgeon training program at Hamlin

Recognising this problem, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia has worked alongside the International Federation for Gynaecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) to increase the number of trained fistula surgeons around the world.

Doctors such as Kenny Raha, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), have trained at Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia. Raha estimates a rate of 40 000 women are living with obstetric fistula in the DRC. He explains that “women are waiting for fistula surgery, but unfortunately we don’t have enough trained and competent fistula surgeons.”

FIGO has successfully trained 55 surgeons. Remarkably, 28 of these surgeons have been trained by Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia. They have been trained in Dr Catherine Hamlin’s best practice fistula treatment and care.

Eradicating fistula

Unfortunately, obstetric fistula is also complicated by various socioeconomic and cultural factors in developing countries like Ethiopia.

Dr Fekade Ayenachew, the Medical Director at Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, describes the various challenges these women face:

“Most of these patients are very young, to the level that they don’t really know… the complications they have come into. They are also from the very poor parts of the communities and so their family and community does not have the tools to support them.”

To hear more from Dr Fekade Ayenachew about the FIGO training program, watch the video below.

As we enter 2019, FIGO and Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia continue to work together to get one step closer toward a fistula-free world – realising Catherine’s dream:

“My dream is to eradicate obstetric fistula from Ethiopia. I won’t achieve this in my lifetime, but you can in yours.”

By increasing the number of trained medical professionals around the world, access to treatment and prevention increases.

Surgeons at work

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia continues to offer free treatment to patients who would otherwise be unable to afford this life-saving surgery.

Author: Felicity Duong, intern at Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation

You can make a difference and contribute towards a fistula-free world by donating today.

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