Obstetric fistula: Exit shame, welcome freedom to mothers


IF it had legs of its own, obstetric fistula would be very good at eluding attention; instead, it sends its victims into hiding – and sure death where ignorance and lack of medical care come into play.

Obstetric Fistula is a medical condition in which a hole develops at the most sensitive region in a mother’s reproductive system, and it does so after severe or failed childbirth – when adequate medical care is NOT available.

In Africa in particular, this often spells doom because open discussion about human reproduction borders on the ‘un-mentionable’ taboo. And, when ignorance and superstition come into play, a recipe for disaster is served at the most stinky social dumpsite we call STIGMA.

It’s here that real, yet needless, suffering begins for the hapless mother – who may have lost a child, only to harvest shame and loss of self-worth. But then Obstetric Fistula is almost entirely preventable; above all, it’s curable when it occurs and, according to health advocates, its persistence is a sign that health systems are failing to meet women’s essential needs.

In crude shorthand, this medical condition is a disease of poverty – almost entirely --because of its tendency to occur in women in poor countries who do not have access to adequate obstetrics care.

To date, an estimated two million women in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Arab region, and Latin America and the Caribbean are living with this injury, and some 50,000 to 100,000 new cases develop each year.

So Government plans to improve 100 health facilities to enable suffering women undergo surgical repair couldn’t have come at a more opportune time; it’s swift response to an unfolding bad news item that only 50 per cent of the 3,000 known cases – underscore known – are being handled at the moment. The real toast of the week is the angling, or focus, of the entire onslaught against this stealthy killer: public education.

According to the Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ms Ummy Mwalimu, the state is all-out to ensure it raises awareness to women that “the disease is treatable.”

Yet we’re being tempted to add here that the public education part of this awareness campaign may have less to do with women – the victims – as it does with their male partners, the perpetrators of the needless suffering.

We dare say so because some ill-informed husbands are on record to have divorced their spouses on account of what they erroneously believe: that Obstetric Fistula is a disease of the cursed!

Indeed, we stand precious little chance of liberating our mothers from the pain of this disease if the “other half” remains mired in ignorance. Already, this ministry sits on a piling tray of unfinished business. So the minister will need all the support from the rest of us. Still, all the best Ms Mwalimu!

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