What is Obstetric Fistula?
One of the worst things that can happen to a woman is an obstetric fistula, an internal injury caused by an unrelieved obstructed labour during childbirth.
A fistula is an internal injury in the form of a hole between the birth canal and the bladder and/or rectum. It leaves women leaking urine or faeces, and sometimes both.
How does Obstretric Fistula Occur?
It occurs during prolonged, obstructed childbirth, when a woman lacks access to emergency medical care. During this time, the mother’s delicate tissues in the birth canal are destroyed while trying to give birth. Tragically, 93% of women who suffer an obstetric fistula will give birth to a stillborn baby, often after an agonizing obstructed labor that has lasted several days.
It is estimated that around 31,000 women are still living with untreated fistula injuries in Ethiopia. A further 1,000 women suffer new fistula injuries every year, due to a lack of access to quality healthcare.
How does Obstetric Fistula Impact a Women’s Life?
Although the condition is almost entirely preventable, it is still a huge public health issue. Without an understanding of the complication and its causes, a woman is frequently blamed for her condition.
Symptoms of an obstetric fistula are urinary and/or fecal incontinence that can lead to severe infections and ulcerations of the vaginal tract. Some patients suffer from paralysis caused by nerve damage.
Survivors are often subject to severe social stigma due to their smell, perceptions of uncleanliness, a mistaken assumption of venereal disease and, in some cases, infertility. Nearly all patients at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital report psychological issues associated with their condition.
These terrible injuries leave women trapped in a life of pain, shame, and isolation.
How is Obstetric Fistula Treated?
In most cases, obstetric fistula can be repaired with a single life-changing surgery, but for some women who have suffered for many years, their injuries will require more complex treatment. At Hamlin, women receive life-changing treatment free of charge, thanks to a community of people who are determined to eradicate fistula, forever.
Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is globally renowned for its fistula treatment and surgeons from around the world visit and train at Hamlin hospitals to learn best practice fistula-repair surgery. Developed by Dr Catherine Hamlin, this pioneering surgical technique has been recognised by global leading organisations. Click here to read the profiles of Hamlin’s Clinical Team.
Can Obstetric Fistula be Prevented?
Timely access to quality maternal healthcare is critical in preventing obstetric fistulas. In Australia, obstetric fistulas are virtually a thing of the past, however in countries like Ethiopia where more than 50% of births take place without a doctor or nurse present, these injuries are much more common.
Midwives are the key to a fistula-free Ethiopia, that’s why Dr Catherine Hamlin established the Hamlin College of Midwives in 2007. Over 234 Hamlin Midwives have graduated from the College so far, and there are over 90 Hamlin-supported midwifery clinics across rural Ethiopia.
The impact is remarkable – when a Hamlin Midwife arrives at a clinic, new cases of fistula drop to almost zero in nearby villages. Last year alone, Hamlin Midwives delivered 18,606 babies.
Dr Catherine Hamlin’s dream was to eradicate obstetric fistula forever, so that every woman can be free from these atrocious internal injuries.
“These women have suffered more than any woman should be called upon to ensure. To meet only one is to be profoundly moved and calls forth the utmost compassion that the human heart is capable of feeling.”– Dr Catherine Hamlin
“Look at me now, I am extraordinarily dry. What surprised me most during my stay at this hospital was the motherly and holistic care I received – even during this hard time with the pandemic, all the services that probably would cost a lot of money are free of charge. I can’t thank you enough for your unconditional love and care. You may think this is just a job, but for me and women like me, it is like a rebirth. Thank you for giving back my life again.”– Chaltu
Read how Chaltu’s life was restored after she suffered a preventable tragedy.