Fistula Surgeries Provide Renewed Hope for Women in Malawi


Maternal Health

Our Senior Program Manager, Lindsey Pollaczek, is currently traveling throughout Africa, visiting partners in the region. Below she shares an update from her travels: 

Walking into the post-operative ward at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, in Blantyre, Malawi, the room full of more than 80 women erupt into song, expressing their happiness to be dry and the chance to live free of their condition.

They are celebrating the end of suffering from obstetric fistula, a debilitating childbirth injury that occurs primarily during  prolonged, obstructed labor and leaves the woman with a hole in the birth canal, causing chronic incontinence.

With just a couple days left of the three week fistula repair outreach camp, organized by the United Nations Population Fund – Malawi (UNFPA – Malawi), an estimated 82 women from districts throughout Malawi and neighboring Mozambique will receive free treatment. The women range from 15 to 50 years old and had lived with the condition for as little as a few months to more than 20 years.

Direct Relief provided the essential medicines and medical supplies to support the fistula treatment services at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in partnership with UNFPA Malawi. Direct Relief also supports the fistula repair services provided at the Bwaila Fistula Center in Lilongwe, Malawi, as well as over 25 facilities throughout sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia.

One young woman on the ward, Esmie (pictured above), was 17 when she became pregnant. She did not receive any pre-natal care during her pregnancy, so by the time she went into labor she felt it was too late to seek help at a health facility. She went into labor on Friday, and stayed at home with only her grandmother until she finally delivered on Sunday. The baby was stillborn. She began leaking immediately but for several years was unable to find help.

Finally, after hearing from her aunt that treatment might be available at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital she came seeking help—and was registered for an operation during the twice-annual outreach camp. She is feeling better now and she is ready to go home and tell other people that help is available. She hopes she will be able to start a business selling fish, and hopes at some point to get pregnant again, at which point she will attend antenatal care visits and will come to the hospital when she goes into labor.

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