Why stigma? Fistula can be treated
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SOME of the women undergoing fistula treatment at CCBRT.

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IT WAS all smiles as Sikujua Mabula (19) from Mwanza Region went through successful obstetric fistula surgery when aged 17 years which had posed threat to her normal labour delivery.

“For seven consecutive days, I experienced labour pangs, but still could not give birth. On the eighth day, I delivered a stillborn baby whose only head managed to come out,” she pointed out while evading eye contacts.

Mabula hinted that the pregnancy forced her to get married to the man who had impregnated her despite not being prepared to tie a knot with him.

“A few months after the marriage, my husband advised me to return to my parents because life was becoming uncompromising and return when things becomes normal. “Back home, I used to attend clinic where doctors told me that the baby was big and I would only give birth through caesarean surgery.

A few months to my delivery time, my mother-in-law advised me to return so that they would give me company,” she further narrated.

The would-be-mother said that on her return, she found her mother-in-law had prepared some concoctions of traditional herbs as her medicine with an idea that the medicine would help her to deliver safely at home without developing complications and avoid going to hospital.

She had no option but to obey, only to experience severe labour pangs in the process and be rushed to a hospital to deliver, but unfortunately it was too late. “With the doctors interventions they managed to remove out the baby who was already a stillborn.

I became very sick, and I barely walked…, and I used to urinate frequently and excrete on myself,” said Mabula with tears almost running down her cheeks. She said the complication made her husband who was then 20 years-old to dump her for another marriage, but with support of Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania (CCBRT), her obstetric fistula condition has been successfully treated.

“I thank God, I am now doing well after being brought to CCBRT, and I appreciate their support,” she added.

According to CCBRT Fistula Surgeon, Dr James Chapa, obstetric fistula is a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder that is caused by prolonged obstructed labor, leaving a woman with no control of urine or stool or both.

He pointed out that Tanzania was leading in cases of obstetric fistula in East Africa along with Kenya for it is estimated that over 3,000 women in the country develop the condition as a result of obstructed labour and unavailability of emergency care such as caesarean surgeries.

“Only half of the cases are treated every year and a backlog of 1,500 others remain unattended due to factors such as poverty, lack of awareness, lack of statistics and enough experts in their areas,” noted Dr Chapa.

He said that about 15,000 surgeries of obstetric fistula have been performed in the country through the support of CCBRT and encouraged women who experience the condition to consult his institution for support. “Women or girls should not feel ashamed for experiencing such conditions, instead turn out in big numbers for medical treatment,” said Dr Chapa.

Commenting on such fistula conditions, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director, Dr Babatunde Osotimehin had this this to say: “Over the past year, I followed the total transformation of two women’s lives.”

One is Alice, from Malawi, who was successfully treated for obstetric fistula at the age of 83, after living with the terrible, but treatable condition for 66 years and Jumwa, from Kenya, who was treated at the age of 77, after living with fistula for 50 years. “I have no words to describe the sense of hope, healing and restored dignity that this treatment has provided to the victims, first and foremost to these two women, but also to their loved ones.

“While these are stories of hope, they are also stories of tragedy, the tragedy being that both women ever suffered from fistula in the first place. “They should never have endured the decades of discomfort and shame that could have been so easily prevented.

The time has come to put an end to this suffering where it occurs,” said the director. Recently, during a Media Orientation Session held ahead of the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula marked on every May 23, UNFPA, Country Director, Dr Hashina Begum pointed out that for every woman who dies, 20 or more are injured or disabled.

She observed that among the most serious injuries in child bearing is obstetric fistula, whereas it is estimated that more than two million women and girls live with the condition globally.

“However, the injury is preventable and in most cases can be repaired surgically,” noted Dr Begum. She further said that at least 50,000 to 100,000 new fistula cases occur every year globally, adding: “With strong political leadership, investment and action, we can end this scourge in our lifetime.”

She was keen to reveal that many women do not seek treatment earlier due to lack of information on the cause (s) of fistula and its potential treatment, simply because some of them lack funds to pay for the transport to treatment centers.

On the other hand, the government plans to improve 100 health facilities to enable women suffering from Obstetric Fistula to undergo surgical repair.

The Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children Ms Ummy Mwalimu said that the government was out to ensure it raises awareness to women on the disease that it is treatable.

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