What is obstetric fistula?
An obstetric fistula is a hole that develops either between the rectum and the vagina (rectovaginal fistula), or between the bladder and the vagina (vesicovaginal fistula) and is caused by prolonged, obstructed labour during which the mother does not receive adequate treatment or care.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that approximately 2 million African women suffer from this condition, with 50 000 to 100 000 new cases developing every year.
The physical problems associated with this condition is a constant leakage of urine or faeces, or both, condemning the women to a lifetime of incontinence. The constant urinary incontinence often leads to skin infections, kidney disorders and even death if left untreated.
The sufferers are often ostracised by their families and communities because they smell and are constantly soaked in urine and/or faeces.
Compounding the problem is the fact that, in various Sub-Saharan countries such as
Nigeria, Uganda, and , obstetric fistula is not
considered a medical condition but rather a “punishment” for women being
disloyal to their families, or as a divine punishment for carrying a venereal
These perceptions, along with the physical symptoms, mean many of the women live in isolation, poverty and shame.
The United Nations Population Fund says obstetric fistula is preventable and can be avoided by delaying the age of first pregnancy (by, for instance, ending the practice of child marriage); family planning to space births and providing emergency obstetric care to pregnant mothers.
Some victims of FGM also end up developing this condition when they get married early.