Obstetric Fistula

Obstetric Fistula

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An aspect of women’s health is Obstetric Fistula, this is a serious medical condition in which a Fistula (hole) develops in the birth canal, either between the rectum and the vagina or between the bladder and the vagina. It is caused by a prolonged labour that presses the unborn baby so tightly in the birth canal that blood flow is cut off from surrounding tissues, and where there has been no medical intervention. This usually occurs in young, thin girls in communities in Africa, Asia and Arabia. At least 2million women in these regions are currently living with the condition. And approximately 50,000 to 100,000 new cases develop each year. This persistence of Fistula shows that health systems are failing to meet the needs of women. A 1993 study in Nigeria found that 55% of sufferers of this condition were under the age of 19, and 94% gave birth at home or in poorly equipped local clinics, this shows due to a lack of health care facilities, a women will not be able to receive a Caesarean Section if she encounters difficulty giving birth.

With Obstetric Fistula the woman will constantly leak urine or faeces, or both which is distressing and humiliating. Despite every effort to keep clean, the smell is hard to eliminate and hard to ignore and often drives people away, including the woman’s own family, and seeing as how it is most likely that her baby was a stillborn she will go through this grief all alone, the community will often cast these women out rendering them impure and infertile. Other than social stigma Fistula can also lead to chronic medical problems, including ulcers, kidney disease and nerve damage in the legs.

A simple surgery can normally repair the injury, with success rates as high as 90% with experienced surgeons. The average cost of one operation for one woman is
£120. Unfortunately, most women with the condition do not know that treatment is available, and cannot afford it. That is why the United Nations have launched a worldwide campaign called Renew, if the campaign goes to plan, by 2015 no woman will have to suffer from this condition again. The UNFPA also launched a worldwide campaign to End Fistula in 2003.

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They aim to prevent Fistula and restore health and dignity of those living with its consequences.

Women in Western countries tend not to suffer from Fistula, this is because if the midwife predicts that the mother may have difficulty during childbirth she will organise for the baby to be born through a Caesarean Section. However, if the difficulty wasn’t anticipated and a Fistula develops the woman will be taken to theatre after her baby is born to repair the damage. This service is provided by the NHS.
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