There is hope for the more than two million women worldwide who are affected by obstetric fistula, the medical condition in which a hole tears between the vagina and either the rectum or the bladder as the result of a prolonged and difficult childbirth. A string of successful fistula correction surgeries in Kenya proves that treatment is becoming more accessible to women in developing countries who suffer from what is widely known as “the most devastating of all childbirth injuries.”

Dr. Hillary Mabeya of the Gynocare Fistula Centre recently completed – with success – his 1,000th fistula correction surgery at the surgical hospital located in Eldoret, Kenya. Gynocare, which serves a region accessible to approximately 10 million people, performs all surgeries pro bono, allowing its patients to worry about nothing more than their own recovery.

In developing countries, surgical centers of this type are necessary to treat fistula, which often throws women even further into poverty as they become socially withdrawn because of constant bowel or bladder leakage. Although it is estimated that there are 100,000 new cases of obstetric fistula every year, the international treatment capability still hovers around just 6,500 cases annually.

Yet giving women access to this surgery is not the only challenge fistula presents: many women, especially those who reside in rural areas, do not even know that their condition can be corrected via surgical means. It is crucial to let childbearing women in low-income countries know that there are options should complications arise in their deliveries. They do not have to live with the indignity of obstetric fistula.

Considering that fistula correction surgeries have the potential to transform so many lives, it is disappointing that H.R. 2888, the Obstetric Fistula Prevention, Treatment, Hope and Dignity Act of 2013, which was assigned a Congressional committee nearly a year ago, was never introduced to the entire Senate or the House of Representatives. Foreign aid could be especially helpful in establishing surgical hospitals like Gynocare in other developing nations, many of which lack fistula treatment centers, as well as promoting fistula education.

Until more foreign aid is designated for this purpose, humanitarian organizations should look to the 1,000 women who have been freed from fistula in Kenya as inspiration for the future.

– Elise L. Riley

Sources: Gynocare, Fistula Foundation, Al Jazeera
Photo: Flickr