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Meet Luchembele: Fistula Survivor from Bugando Medical Centre

  • August 25, 2010

AmeriCares partners with Bugando Medical Centre in Tanzania to help women suffering from birthing injuries – including obstetric fistula. This devastating injury often afflicts young mothers who go through difficult, prolonged labor without medical attention.

Bugando Medical Centre, serving community of more than 14 million people in Tanzania, admits an average of one patient each day suffering from obstetric fistula. Almost unheard of in the West, fistulas are common in much of the developing world. Extended labor brought on by teenage pregnancies and breeched babies can tear a hole, or fistula, that leaks urine.

Often, following the trauma of a failed and nearly fatal delivery, these seriously injured women are kicked out by their families, turned away by their husbands and even shunned in society because of the unpleasant side-effects of the fistula.

The ostracism is even more tragic because, with surgery, fistulas can be repaired. Supporting that effort, AmeriCares provides a range of medical supplies to Bugando, from catheters to surgical sutures. After a few weeks of recovery time, most patients can return to a healthy life. And one of those women is Luchembele.

Luchembele’s smile belies a story of profound suffering, heartbreaking for a woman so young; she married and, barely in her teens, became pregnant in a remote Tanzanian village.

“I had four days of labor,” Luchembele said. “The hospital is very far from my village, and though the bus came every day, I started labor on a Friday and the bus didn’t come Saturday or Sunday, so I waited at home until Monday.”

Struggling to deliver a still born baby, the breech birth nearly killed her. Exhausted and overwhelmed, Luchembele soon realized her troubles were far from over.

“I knew I had a fistula because I started leaking urine,” Luchembele said. “At first I thought it was normal, but after the second day the doctor explained it was a problem.”

For Luchembele, an impoverished rural teenager, that surgery seemed an impossibility. After her family struggled to save $25 for transport to the hospital – nearly 10% of the average annual per capita income – she could finally return to Bugando for the fistula repair operation. 

“When I arrived at Bugando they told me that I would be alright, that I was welcome,” Luchembele said. “I was so happy. I saw that other girls had this problem, when I thought it was only me.”

Luchembele received the surgery she needed to repair her fistula at the hospital. Sore and tired, her steps hampered by the catheter she must wear for several more weeks, Luchembele says it is a small price to pay for this  new lease on her young life.

“The doctor told me I will have the catheter for 21 days, and then I can go home,” Luchembele said. “I will be very, very happy, because I want to go home and tell them I am cured.”

AmeriCares and Bugando have launched a targeted maternal health program for fistula suffers and the impact is unmistakable.  Women who would otherwise have continued to suffer from the dangerous and embarrassing condition have been able to return to normalcy, bond with other women dealing with the same challenges and learn valuable literacy and life skills.

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