Nearly half of African girls are at risk for obstetric fistula. This serious condition is defined by tears between the birth canal and urinary tract, that causes the affected individual to constantly leak urine and feces. This condition occurs at particularly high rates in Africa due to poverty, child brides, female genital cutting, sexual assault and rape, and unattended births. Young girls are highly susceptible, as in rural parts of Africa, girls are often married and become pregnant before their bodies are sufficiently developed to handle the birth of a child. Furthermore, in rural regions with scare resources, unattended births compound the already dire situation that many women face. In such conditions, women and girls giving birth may experience exceptionally long labors that can not be properly or quickly addressed by medical personnel. The child often dies in the situation of an unattended and prolonged labor, and if the mother does not die, she often sustains serious tears, or fistula.
Once a woman sustains a fistula, the condition is debilitating, humiliating, and there are few qualified individuals readily available to perform the surgery necessary to repair the tears. As such, few women are able to receive medical care and are burdened by the stigma and pain associated with fistula. Because of the constant fecal and urine leakage, affected women are often ostracized by their communities and families. Husbands often abandon their wives; families of a rape victims who become pregnant and are then affected by fistula, are often ostracized for being “damaged” and “impure.” Communities may also abandon affected women, with the aim of avoiding the smell that accompanies the fistula condition, and any possible fertility and birth “curse” that may follow affected women. Abandoned by family and community, many of these women are left to suffer and die alone.
As debilitating and traumatizing as this disease is for women in rural and resource scarce areas, repair of the fistulas is relatively simple with involvement of qualified medical personnel. As more awareness is called to the condition and the situations that underly the high occurrence of the condition, money, interest, and facilities can be focused to address at least some of the cases of obstetric fistula in rural Africa. Attention given to the issues of child brides, sexual assault, and unattended births, may play a role in reducing the number of women who are affected by fistulas every year.
For more information, please visit:
Voices of America- Many African Females at Risk of Obstetric Fistula- June 25, 2014
Mercy Ships- Mercy Ships Provides Free Obstetric Fistula Surgeries in Africa- May 22, 2014