Kenya’s Next Generation Could Be Fistula Free

By Katie Weller

November 6, 2017

“Do you see these tears she’s crying? Those are tears of joy. If it weren’t for this work, they would still be tears of sadness.”

I was holding Mary’s hand when the doctor said these words to me. It was my first trip to Kenya on behalf of Fistula Foundation, and Mary was the first patient I met.

Only five days earlier, Mary underwent surgery to repair a terrible childbirth injury. She had obstetric fistula—the result of an obstructed labor that leaves women unable to control their urine or feces. Survivors are stigmatized because of their smell, and too often, their husbands leave them. Surgery is the only cure.

Mary, Fistula Survivor and her baby

We are lucky that here in the United States, fistula was essentially eradicated over a century ago. When a doctor or nurse sees the warning signs of a complicated childbirth that could lead to fistula, they are able to perform C-sections and other operations to ensure a healthy and safe delivery.

Yet, it remains a scourge among the world’s poorest women. This tragic injury is caused by poverty—and made worse by a flood of factors, including an acute shortage of trained fistula surgeons and a lack of medical facilities in rural areas.

When things go wrong during labor in the developing world, it is often too late, too expensive, or too far for a woman to get an equipped facility for the help she so desperately needs.

In cases like Mary’s, the solution is to repair an obstetric fistula through surgery after it happens.

“Do you see these tears she’s crying? Those are tears of joy. If it weren’t for this work, they would still be tears of sadness.”

Mary’s life-changing surgery was delivered through the revolutionary Action on Fistula program in Kenya. Its holistic model accounts for every step in a woman’s journey to recovery, including community outreach, a network of hospitals, surgeon training, comprehensive post-surgery care and job skills classes. Hospitals and teams on the ground collaborate to share resources and information. 

Action on Fistula launched in 2014, and over 2,700 women like Mary have received treatment—more than double the pilot’s goal.  Now, it’s entering the next phase, we are confident that Action on Fistula can end fistula in Kenya within a generation. 

In that quiet moment with Mary in her hospital room, her tears began anew as she described her plans for the future. Now that she is healed, Mary wants to become an advocate for other women who are suffering.

Take Action Challenge

  • Read this briefing on how Action on Fistula is working to end fistula in Kenya within a generation.
  • Donate to Fistula Foundation’s work providing life-changing fistula surgeries in Africa & Asia, including the pathbreaking Action on Fistula program in Kenya.
  • Share this post with family and friends to spread the word about obstetric fistula.

Photo credits: All photos courtesy of Georgina Goodwin

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