3 Questions to Ask About Obstetric Fistula

Obstetric Fistula

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 in sub-Saharan Africa. It happens when the cost or location of adequate care is prohibitive.

Crew embrace OBF patients at the Dress Ceremony

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.

International Day to End Obstetric Fistula
Crew dance with OBF patients at the Dress Ceremony

3. Who is Doing Something About it?

There are several amazing NGOs 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 our hospital ship, the Africa Mercy. In addition to treating the condition, our volunteers provide courses and training to 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.

volunteer Florence Bangura

The Woman Who Forged Her Way Through Walls: Florence Bangura’s Story

Florence’s journey from oldest to newest Mercy Ship came full circle when she met the Global Mercy™ in 2023, the same year that the purpose-built hospital ship began welcoming its patients on board. Today, you can find Florence, now 49 years old, down in the engine room as a hotel engineering assistant.

Dr Austin Demby

Transforming Sierra Leone’s Healthcare: A Vision for Safe and Affordable Surgery

As experts from the surgical and healthcare world gather for the 64th Annual Conference and Scientific Meeting of the West African College of Surgeons in Sierra Leone this week, a profound dedication to advancing surgical knowledge and practice in the region is palpable. At the forefront of discussions lies the conference’s pivotal theme: access to safe and affordable surgical and anesthetic care in West Africa. This theme highlights the pressing need to address disparities in healthcare capabilities and capacities across the region, especially the critical importance of equitable access to quality surgical interventions.

Mission Madagascar

The Africa Mercy Arrives in Madagascar to Bring Hope and Healing Anew

Freshly refitted hospital ship, the upgraded Africa Mercy® has arrived at the island nation to build on the charity’s longstanding collaboration and will provide specialized surgeries in various fields, including maxillofacial and ear nose and throat, general, pediatric specialized general, pediatric orthopedic, cataract surgery, and reconstructive plastics. 

Patient Vanya

Reuniting with Vanya, Years After Surgery

In 2015, in an operating room on board the Africa Mercy while docked in Madagascar, the course of Vanya’s life changed.
Years have now passed since Vanya’s journey toward healing. In the time since, her improved ability to walk allowed her to return to school, where she loved studying environmental science and learning about the world around her.

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