Fistula is a medical condition faced by women of every nationality, background and income level. However, these factors affect the rate at which women encounter fistula. Although income level is the largest determinant, nationality is also highly influential in countries where women have limited economic opportunities. However, recent developments are providing hope for women with fistula.
What is Fistula?
Fistula is an abnormal connection between the organs that often occurs when women have troubles with pregnancy and labor—specifically when labor is prolonged. When fistula occurs, especially in places where women have financial and geographic access to medical care, medical experts can normally address the problem with procedures such as C-sections. However, for women who lack access to these services, the issue worsens.
The labor period can last for days, which causes extreme pain and usually causes the baby to die in the process. During labor, the baby’s head presses against the mother’s pelvis and disrupts blood flow. This disruption creates holes, or fistulae, between the vagina and bladder or rectum. Permanent leakage of waste occurs in the mother if the condition goes untreated. Thus, women’s health and well-being directly impact access to emergency medical treatment.
Women with fistula usually live in underprivileged parts of Africa and Asia. To make matters worse, these countries largely lack access to sanitation services or goods like running water and incontinence pads. Fistula causes severe physical and psychological pain in affected women: in addition to uncontrollable leakage of urine and stool, women with fistula also face social issues. For example, this condition causes an unpleasant scent that repels family and friends. This condition can also cause a plethora of infections with the potential to impact others.
One Woman’s Story
Edis, a Ugandan woman suffering from fistula, provides a powerful example of the struggle to receive adequate urgent care. With a recently deceased husband, Edisa gave prolonged birth at home because she could not access a nearby hospital to go through labor. As a result, she contracted a fistula with all of its negative side-effects. Fortunately for Edisa, she was eventually able to receive a treatment procedure. Despite accessing care from a USAID-funded hospital, however, Elisa was forced to travel 11 hours away and incur significant transportation costs as a result. For financially struggling women like Elisa, these expenses can become highly burdensome.
Many other women also face hidden costs when seeking fistula repair surgeries, even if the surgery itself is free. These expenses can include loss of income, child care during recovery and food. USAID is using this information to improve conditions for these women by drafting actions like providing financial support for these hidden costs.
Hope for the Future of Fistula
While women with fistula are still suffering across the globe, especially in impoverished areas, this condition is now much less common than in the past. Additionally, many efforts are being initiated to provide funding and support to women in need of care.
– Fahad Saad