Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Obstetric fistula

A couple years ago, the NYT's Nicholas Kristof wrote about the continuing crisis of obstetric fistula in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, a news article in the NYT tells us the problem is far from solved. In Nigeria alone, hundreds of thousands of women have unmended fistulas.

Obstetric fistula is what happens when a woman (usually in her teen years) is in labor for days without access to modern medical care. The baby can't fit through the birth canal, and the woman's urethra, bowels, or both sustain damage such that the body's waste products constantly drip out. A woman with a fistula is often abandoned by her husband and ostracized by her community and even her own family.

There is a straightforward cure for fistula, though: surgical repair. Unfortunately, there are nowhere near enough surgeons and facilities to handle all the cases that arise. Two groups that are working on this issue are the UN Population Fund and American Friends Foundation for Childbirth Injuries (the latter was featured on "Oprah" a couple years ago and is associated with a fistula hospital led by an inspirational surgeon named Catherine Hamlin). According to the NYT, the Population Fund managed to raise only $11 million in their two-year campaign; both groups need more money. The surgery costs only a few hundred dollars, but when there are so few surgeons and thousands upon thousands of impoverished patients in need. While ideally women would never sustain fistulas in the first place, that's a far bigger problem. In the meantime, we can help the women who have already been injured in childbirth, allowing them to return to meaningful lives in their communities.


DoctorMama said...

My husband came across this recently and donated, but forbade me to look at the sites -- says it's too awful. I'm obeying him for once.

Anonymous said...

I am the co-founder of a volunteer initiative, One By One, that is raising awareness and funds for the UN Population Fund's Campaign to End Fistula. As the article points out, $300 is all it costs to bring a woman suffering from this tragic and debilitating condition back to life. One By One uses a giving circle model, where one leader gives $30 and then asks nine friends, family members, neighbors or co-workers to do the same. Together the circle raises $300 - enough money to cover the care for one woman with fistula.

Since our launch in April we have raised over $20,000, enough money to care for 65 women with fistula.

You can learn more about fistula and One By One at

Thanks for bringing even more awareness to this terrible condition that no woman should have to suffer from.

Anonymous said...

I can always rely on you for something educational, to make me think..

Sass said...

i remember watching a film about this issue and just crying. it's such a goddamn tragedy. and Hamlin is a good woman, although, if you listen to her talk a while, you see how she's kind of old school and conservative...but still a fucking amazing human being.