Today is the International Awareness Day to End Obstetric Fistula, let’s take a minute to learn about this condition, the survivors who are living with it and what you can do to help.
1. What is Obstetric Fistula?
It’s the most heartbreaking condition you’ve never heard of. Obstetric fistula is a devastating childbirth-related injury, usually the result of obstructed labour when obstetric care is inaccessible. After a prolonged (multiple day) labour without medical care or access to an emergency caesarean section, a hole between the vagina and the bladder or rectum forms. In most cases, the child is stillborn and the woman is left incontinent, continually leaking urine and/or feces. In addition to the physical trauma, this condition causes extreme shame, societal rejection and social isolation for these women.
Despite being preventable, the World Health Organization estimates between 2 and 3.5 million are currently suffering from obstetric fistula with between 50,000-100,000 more women being affected every year. Obstetric fistula happens in nations where women don’t have universal access to obstetric care, with the majority of new cases each year occurring sub-Saharan Africa. It happens when the cost or location of adequate care is prohibitive.
2. Who is Obstetric Fistula Impacting?
As mentioned above, obstetric fistula affects some of the most marginalized populations in the world—young, rural and poor women in developing nations. But aside from that, the women suffering from this condition are SURVIVORS! Every year 830 women die from preventable pregnancy or childbirth-related complications, but these women did not. They have suffered greatly, but they have survived.
(Crew dance with patients at their Dress Ceremony on Deck 7)
3. Who is doing something about it?
There are several amazing NGO’s around the world working to help women suffering from obstetric fistula and Mercy Ships is one of them. Each year our volunteer medical teams provide free surgery to repair this devastating condition. During our current field service in Cameroon, our team has performed 278 surgeries on women who had experienced only rejection and disdain before coming to the Africa Mercy. In addition to treating the condition, our volunteers provide courses and training local professionals, improving the medical capacity of the country for years to come.
(The Hospital Chaplaincy team with OBF patients after the dress ceremony.)
4. What can I do to help?
Make a donation. Whether you can give $5 or $5,000, every gift helps. If you cannot make a donation, share this with someone who can. Every surgery we provide cannot and does not happen without someone like you giving generously.
(Pictures of the women who suffered from Obstetric Fistula after surgery on the wall in the cafe onboard the Africa Mercy)