For two years, Beverly, 18, leaked urine. Her urinary-vaginal fistula resulted from a challenging three-day labor at the age of 16. Despite her attempts to mitigate seepage by lining and plugging herself with rags, Beverly’s condition significantly interfered with her life. Because of her fistula, Beverly dropped out of school and has been unable to advance beyond a primary level of education.
Obstetric fistulae result from prolonged, unattended childbirth. The baby, trapped in the birth canal, obstructs blood flow to critical tissues, resulting in tears or holes that create problematic linkages between various organs and tracts. The WHO estimates that there are currently two million women in developing countries living with fistula and that 50,000 to 100,000 new cases occur each year.
The suffering women endure due to fistulae is social, emotional, and economic as much as it is physical. The condition evokes little sympathy from community members; instead, victims are considered social impurities. The noxious odor that results from their leakage makes victims unwelcomed company, and the belief that the condition is divine punishment for moral indiscretion often leads to complete marginalization. Loss of employment and, often, familial disownment accompany the physical discomfort and social isolation.
Seeking help, Beverly traveled 215 mi / 346 km to Kenya’s Kisumu Hospital only to learn her condition required a surgical intervention beyond the doctors’ expertise. The Hospital referred her to AMREF’s Nairobi clinic where Dr. Khisa Wakasiaka specializes in fistula treatment.
On July 1, 2010, the clinic hosted Beverly and a team of the Kisumu Hospital’s doctors and nurses who would undergo medical training while Beverly underwent reparative surgery. Armed with the proper medical knowledge and techniques, the Hospital’s staff will be equipped to admit and treat patients suffering from fistulae in the future. While in pre-op, Beverly said that upon completing her two-week recovery, she intends to reenroll in school to position herself to be a proud and valuable member of her community.
For 16 years, AMREF has partnered with Kenya’s Ministry of Health, African universities’ teaching hospitals, and faith-based health care providers to offer training and healing that targets obstetric fistulae.
Read more about our work focused on maternal illness.
Take a look at photos from AMREF's Nairobi clinic where Beverly was treated.