We believe no woman should suffer the indignity of an obstetric fistula.
We have all come into this world because of a woman. And we believe every woman should be able to deliver her baby safely and without harm.
What is an obstetric fistula?
One of the worst things that can happen to a woman or girl is an obstetric fistula, an internal injury caused by an obstructed labour during childbirth that leaves her incontinent and humiliated with a lingering odour. A fistula is a hole between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum. It leaves survivors leaking urine or faeces – and sometimes both – through their vagina.
93% of obstetric fistula survivors give birth to a stillborn baby.
How is it prevented?
Imagine suffering the most horrendous internal injury just because you are a woman without access to effective maternal healthcare.
With the right access to maternal healthcare, this horrific childbirth injury is entirely preventable. In fact, in western countries, obstetric fistulas are virtually a thing of the past.
But in rural Ethiopia, where women have little or no access to maternal healthcare, they will be in agonising labour for days if their birth is obstructed. They almost always lose their baby and suffer horrific internal damage – sometimes the bladder is completely destroyed, sometimes the rectum is also damaged.
Having access to a well-trained midwife and an emergency caesarean section can prevent obstetric fistula in the first place. Read about our prevention program here.
Her dream is to eradicate obstetric fistula forever, so that every woman can be free from these atrocious internal injuries.
My dream is to eradicate obstetric fistula. I won’t do this in my lifetime, but you can in yours.
– Dr Catherine Hamlin
What happens to women suffering from obstetric fistula?
The physical consequences of this childbirth injury are devastating and debilitating. The hole between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum leaves survivors leaking urine or faeces – and sometimes both, through their vagina. But if that wasn’t horrific enough, these women also endure the loss of their baby, social isolation, stigma and loss of dignity.
Because of the shame associated with their smell, these women are isolated and pushed to the edge of their society – forgotten and invisible.
These women have suffered more than any woman should be called upon to endure. 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
These women are the lepers of the 21st century, and although the condition is almost entirely preventable, it is still a huge public health issue in Ethiopia. Survivors, often voiceless and marginalised, tend to live in impoverished countries, with the common thread of being poor, rural and female.