Many women with obstetric fistula suffer for years or decades before they are able to access surgical treatment. Fortunately for Beatrice, who was 16 when she developed fistula, it was less than a month before she received treatment at the Nyanza Provincial General Hospital in Kisumu, Kenya – where Direct Relief has worked since 2009, with the support of The Fistula Foundation.
Beatrice developed fistula – a hole in the birth canal caused by prolonged and obstructed labor – after laboring at home for two days in the presence of a traditional birth attendant. The distance to the hospital was too far for Beatrice to travel, and she stayed at home until her situation became life-threatening.
By the time Beatrice arrived at the hospital, the baby was stillborn and she had started leaking urine uncontrollably. She also developed foot-drop, which made it difficult and painful for her to walk, as a result of nerve damage caused during the prolonged labor.
The staff at Homa Bay Hospital – several of whom received training in obstetric fistula management six months before during a camp sponsored by The Fistula Foundation – recognized the condition and advised Beatrice and her family to go to the Nyanza Provincial General Hospital where she could receive surgical repair. Beatrice’s family arranged transportation to Kisuma, about two hours from her home, where she was admitted for surgery in May 2012.
Beatrice’s treatment was successful and she is no longer leaking urine. The pain in her leg is feeling better and most of all she is happy to be back in school. She thinks she would like to have children, but only after she has finished her studies and she is ready to have a family. Beatrice’s mother is relieved her daughter is back to good health and feels she has a bright future.
Thanks to the availability of fistula repair at Nyanza Provincial General Hospital and the quick referral from health workers trained to recognize her condition, Beatrice did not suffer the severe stigma and isolation that many women with fistula endure.
When girls and young women like Beatrice develop fistula, it is imperative they have treatment as early as possible and a strong support system to minimize the heavy toll that fistula can take on their physical, social, and psychological well-being.
Neither Beatrice nor any woman should suffer from such a devastating, preventable injury. In Kenya, an estimated 3,000 new obstetric fistula cases occur each year – approximately one to two per 1,000 deliveries. The UNFPA estimates that only 7.5 percent of women with fistula are able to access treatment.
As we strengthen prevention efforts, it is essential that women living with fistula also have access to the treatment they need. The collaboration between Direct Relief, The Fistula Foundation and the OGRA Foundation has made this possible for Beatrice and more than 300 women who have received life-transforming fistula treatment at the Nyanza Provincial General Hospital since 2009.
Update (03/04/2013): Nyanza Provincial General Hospital recently changed their name and is now known as the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital.