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Fistula Repair: Healing and Hope for Women in Tanzania

  • May 22, 2013

The cost of fistula treatment is about $400 – a price that’s unaffordable for most women in developing countries like Tanzania where 95 percent of the people live on less than $2 a day.While giving birth to her fifth child, Amina, who lives on a remote island in Tanzania, suffered 24 hours of obstructed labor. Because her home is so far from the nearest health clinic, she struggled on her own until she could finally get to a hospital. By the time she received a Caesarian section, her baby was no longer alive.This was not the end of her sorrow.  Amina is one of the 100,000 women worldwide  who develop obstetric fistula each year.Fortunately, Amina’s story took a positive turn; she learned about AmeriCares obstetric fistula repair project at the Bugando Medical Centre in Tanzania and received the care she needed to recover.Prolonged, obstructed labor can literally break a woman’s body, tearing a hole, or fistula in the birth canal. This devastating condition causes an ongoing leakage of human waste that can lead to infections and serious medical problems.The damage is not just physical. Fistula causes psychological trauma among sufferers, along with social isolation and rejection from their families and communities. Women like Amina may lose their livelihoods, their husbands, and their self esteem. Instead of experiencing the joy of welcoming a new baby, they often lose their babies and become outcasts.

Preventable and treatable

Literacy and life skills classes prepare patients to re-enter their communities with new skillsObstetric fistula is not only preventable with proper maternal care, access to medical facilities and trained practitioners, but it is also treatable — with a 90 percent success rate. Unfortunately, because of limited awareness and insufficient access to qualified practitioners, more than 2 million women in Africa and Asia still go untreated. In Tanzania alone, about 2,000 women develop fistula each year. And the cost of fistula treatment is about $400 – a price that’s unaffordable for most women in developing countries like Tanzania where 95 percent of the people live on less than $2 a dayAmeriCares fistula repair project focuses on restoring not just women’s health, but also their dignity and hope. The project, made possible with support from Ethicon, part of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies, provides supplies for surgery and care, funds for patient care and transportation, community education and awareness-raising, and medical staff training.In addition, literacy and life skills classes are available to patients, preparing them to re-enter their communities with new skills to support expanded livelihoods and return to their families.To spread the word about the project and let women know that help is available, the project has conducted community outreach campaigns, and used radio ads to raise awareness.Since 2010, the program has expanded to help more women in need – supporting 850 fistula patients with surgery and medical care. Of these patients, 700 received literacy and life skills training, and 346 received travel grants to get to and from the hospital for treatment. As the program grows, future plans include specialized training for the Bugando staff to provide the highest level of compassionate care to patients, and the exploration of potential new sites in Tanzania and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.AmeriCares project at Bugando Medical Centre provides cost-free, skilled fistula repair services, and allows women like Amina to regain their health, their dignity and their lives. Now