It’s a condition that causes unparalleled suffering in young women across Africa, including many in Zimbabwe. The pain and trauma of losing your child in a long drawn-out labour is then compounded by internal injuries that can leave the woman incontinent. An uncontrollable flow of urine, and sometimes faeces, means an unavoidable odour that accompanies the young woman wherever she goes. Her community, unable to understand the condition, will likely stigmatize and isolate her. The husband usually leaves and the young woman gradually withdraws from life altogether, often to live in huts at periphery of the community.
One sufferer, Blessing, an 18-year-old from Mutare, says matter of factly that she’s cursed, “Because God would not allow such suffering.”
But this condition is not a curse. It’s obstetric fistula and its easily preventable and treatable. The most common obstetric fistula is a vesico-vaginal fistula (VVF) – a hole between the bladder and vagina. About 5% of sufferers also suffer from a recto-vaginal fistula (RVF), as well (a hole between the rectum and vagina). They can both be repaired by straightforward surgeries.
Right now in Zimbabwe a major outreach is underway to find women with fistulas and help them. The community outreach, the largest of its kind ever attempted, is being run by Avondale Rotary Club’s Priscilla Mbhande and Fortunate Mbhande. The programme of surgical repairs, which started on Monday 30 March, is spearheaded by Women and Health Alliance International (WAHA), and the University of Zimbabwe’s Departments of Urology and Obstetrics and Gynaecology, with surgeries taking place at the Parirenyatwa Hospital, who are also strongly supportive of the programme.
Since 2013, there have been three week-long camps at Pari and a total of 44 women have had reparative surgeries, all completed by visiting WAHA surgeon from Ethiopia, Dr Ambaye Geda. Before joining WAHA, Dr Ambaye worked for 15 years at Addis Ababa’s famous Fistula Hospital, the first dedicated fistula hospital in the world. She estimates that she has repaired a staggering 10,000 fistulas, changing 10,000 lives for the better in the process. At Pari, she will work alongside local doctors and provide training to juniors and registrars from the departments of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Urology.
This outreach is the biggest yet, aiming to complete at least 70 surgeries during three weeks of surgeries, spread out over the next two months. The first batch of patients will start arriving this weekend for surgeries next week. Post-operatively, they stay in hospital for three weeks. For the women, it’s a blessed relief, not just to get the fistula repaired, but – after sometimes years of isolation – to be able to talk to someone else who’s had the same condition.
The treatment is completely free of charge, and transport costs are also provided. Any woman suffering from obstetric fistula, no matter what her age will be treated.
Referrals can be made by calling or texting Fortunate on either of these two numbers: 0782 640 840 (also whatsapp) or 0779 626 506.