Today, at least one million women in Africa and Asia needlessly suffer from untreated fistula.
How Fistula Impacts a Woman’s Life
Obstetric fistula most commonly occurs in poor, rural areas of Africa and Asia where the women affected live in dirt-floor dwellings and lack access to running water and incontinence pads.
Under these circumstances, a woman with fistula faces devastating physical and psychological consequences. Unable to control the leaking of her body’s waste, she suffers with chronic infections and pain. Too often, her smell drives away her husband, family and friends.
With little community understanding of fistula and its causes, a woman is frequently blamed for her condition. She too often lives in isolation, unaware that others share her injury and that it is treatable. Because fistula usually occurs during a woman’s first pregnancy—when she is in her teens or early twenties—she will likely suffer for decades, if it is not repaired.
Yes. Corrective surgery provides effective treatment for women suffering from an obstetric fistula or a severe perineal tear. If the operation is performed by a skilled surgeon, a woman with either of these childbirth injuries can very often return to a normal life, with her continence and hope restored.
Fistula most commonly occurs to women in their early twenties, in countries where the average life span is approximately 65 years—meaning a one-time surgical intervention can restore 40+ years of health.
Even though obstructed labor occurs in approximately 5% of all child births worldwide, obstetric fistula has largely been eradicated in wealthy countries, thanks to the advent of the Cesarean section in the early 1900s.
Today, fistula persists in low-income countries where women have limited access to emergency obstetric care. It continues to destroy women’s lives at an alarming rate in poor, rural regions of Africa and Asia, where fewer than 6 out of 10 women give birth with a medical professional present.
Perineal tears commonly occur during vaginal childbirth around the world. Small tears can heal on their own with proper management. Because women in wealthy countries usually give birth at a health facility, a severe tear can either be prevented or can immediately be diagnosed and treated. It is unlikely a woman in a wealthy country would live with an untreated tear.
An obstetric fistula occurs when a mother has a prolonged, obstructed labor, but cannot access emergency medical care, such as a C-section. It is a symptom of deep, intractable poverty and the low status of women and girls.
In poor countries, many children are malnourished, which can stunt their growth. If a young mother’s pelvis is not fully mature, she is at an increased risk of experiencing an obstructed labor—and with it, devastating childbirth injuries like obstetric fistula. The practice of early marriage and young pregnancy can additionally compound this risk.
Another cause of fistula is a critical lack of doctors and medical facilities. In poor, rural regions of Africa and Asia, fewer than 6 out of 10 women give birth with a medical professional present.
Dr. Denis MukwegeTaking action means saying 'no' to indifference...It is a choice: whether or not to support a woman, whether or not to protect her, whether or not to defend her rights.