Standing Strong With Our Partners Through the Covid-19 Crisis

By Kate Grant

It feels like a lifetime ago—in January, our team at Fistula Foundation was celebrating the end of a strong  2019, pleased to have helped our partners deliver more life-transforming surgeries than ever before. Then, the most devastating pandemic in a century hit, turning our world and our work upside down. 

In the first few weeks of the pandemic, we were deeply troubled by the crisis unfolding in our own country, but we also worried about our partners in Africa and Asia. Quick action by the governments in their countries was helping to slow the spread of the virus—but the future was still frighteningly uncertain. Our partners were telling us they didn’t have the masks, gloves and disinfectants they needed, and the economic fallout of countrywide lockdowns was forcing them to cut salaries and staff.

 Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Our partners here were already navigating a humanitarian crisis—and then Covid-19 hit. Running water is scarce, and frequent hand-washing and social distancing can be almost impossible.  Credit: CC EU Civil Protections and Humanitarian Aid.

In the face of these challenges, we could not sit by and let our partner hospitals and doctors confront the pandemic and its severe economic damage alone. Fistula Foundation’s mission has always been laser-focused on fistula treatment. However, on March 29,  with unanimous support from our board, we amended our legal charter to enable us to fund Covid-19 response.

In May, we launched the Fistula Foundation Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund. Its goal is to deliver support directly to our partner hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic. The fund is separate from our fistula treatment program and will close when a vaccine becomes available. Every penny raised goes directly to our partners—100%. All overhead costs are covered by our rainy day fund.

Thanks to the extraordinary support of our donor community, our Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund has raised more than $600,000 since its launch in May, and new donations are coming in every day. To date, grants have been sent to 27 partner hospitals in 12 countries to protect their ability to treat patients and save lives. These funds are helping to provide:

  • Personal protective equipment, like masks and gloves
  • Infection control supplies and training
  • Nursing and other staff salaries to prevent layoffs


Staff members unload supplies at Evangel Vesico-Vaginal Fistula Center (EVVF) Hospital in Nigeria. Credit: Courtesy of EVVF


The Impact of Covid-19 on Maternal Health Services

We are staying in close touch with our hospital partners to find out how the pandemic is impacting their maternity wards. One painful lesson from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in recent years is that a horrific virus, like Ebola, can result in increased maternal deaths and injuries when women who need medical help during labor stay away from hospitals.  We fear—and experts agree—that Covid-19 could have the same tragic impact. This would put even more women at risk of dying in childbirth or developing serious complications like obstetric fistula. 


Community health workers in Zambia with masks, sanitizer, and soap provided by Fistula Foundation. In 2017, Fistula Foundation launched a countrywide care network in Zambia. Today, the network’s community health workers are helping to promote fistula awareness and Covid-19 safety measures. Credit: Fistula Foundation Zambia


What Lies Ahead

There is much uncertainty about what lies ahead for all of us, and when an efficacious vaccine may be available to end this public health nightmare.  But what I know for sure is even as the virus cuts its lethal path forward, we will not forsake the million plus women who we know are suffering needlessly with obstetric fistula.  Nor will we forsake our partner hospitals – because they are the difference between a future of misery and isolation versus one of health and hope for women with fistula. 

In the months ahead, Fistula Foundation will remain focused on helping our partner hospitals treat the greatest number of fistula patients possible, and helping them weather the unprecedented challenge presented by the pandemic.  We are hopeful that once the pandemic is history, together we will be able to move forward with our plan to truly end the needless suffering of women with fistula country-by-country in Africa and Asia. 

Published On: August 3, 2020