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International Women’s Day Spotlight: Fistula Repair and Prevention

  • March 7, 2014

More than a decade ago, when author and educator, Barbara Margolies was speaking in Niger, she noticed 80 women in a courtyard at the national hospital – all of them suffering with obstetric fistula. This devastating, preventable childbirth injury results in the chronic leaking of urine and/or feces, causing health problems, isolation and profound shame for estimated two million women worldwide – mostly in Africa.

 “I had never heard of this condition. Once I learned what it was, I knew that I had to do something,” explained Barbara.  In 2003, she founded the International Organization for Women and Development (IOWD) – an organization that provides surgical expertise and resources for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of fistula, along with crucial medical training and outreach, with a goal of building a sustainable program for fistula prevention. IOWD has completed 43 trips to Africa to date, restoring dignity and health to thousands of women.

Three times each year, the IOWD volunteer medical teams travel to Kibagabaga Hospital in Rwanda for two weeks, supported with donated medicines and supplies from our Medical Outreach program. Barbara attends every trip.  “It is truly a gift to work in a country that provides such support for women,” she said. “Many of the doctors on our team are women, and they are teaching the doctors, medical students, nurses and anesthesia nurses in Rwanda and helping them build skills and confidence.”

The goal is to establish a core of trained Rwanda surgeons who can diagnose and repair fistulas, while training health workers who conduct prevention outreach, and educating women on how to properly care for themselves during pregnancy and childbirth.

In February, 2014, IOWD doctors and nurses arrived at the hospital carrying more than $20,000 worth of critical surgical supplies donated by AmeriCares. Patients were screened, treated and provided with health education. Doctors and health workers were trained.

“The focus here in Rwanda on improving maternal health is phenomenal. I consider myself one of the luckiest people on this earth, doing what I’m doing and being around people who care about fixing this condition, educating people and raising awareness,” she said.

Since 2005, AmeriCares has supported IOWD with donations of medicines and medical supplies.

About Fistula

Prolonged labors commonly occur in Africa, where a majority of women give birth at home. Among women who survive this ordeal, many emerge with fistula — a hole in the birth canal resulting in urinary and/or fecal incontinence. The condition affects 2 million women – mostly in Africa — with 100,000 new cases annually.

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