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What is Obstetric Fistula?

A debilitating and devastating childbirth injury still ongoing in 2020

Obstetric fistula (or vaginal fistula) is a medical condition in which a fistula (hole) develops between the rectum and vagina (rectovaginal) or between the bladder and vagina (vesicovaginal). Obstetric fistulas result from prolonged, obstructed labor, typically in the absence of skilled birth attendants. The injury leaves women incontinent and the stigma surrounding this condition in Ethiopia leads to humiliation and ostracization from the community.

How does obstetric fistula occur?

It occurs during prolonged, obstructed childbirth, when a woman lacks access to emergency medical care. During this time, the mother's delicate tissues in the birth canal are destroyed while trying to give birth. In 93% of cases, the mother's extreme physical pain is paired with the psychological distress of losing her new baby. Internal injuries and pain continue to grow. Incontinence, nerve damage and weakened pelvic muscles sustained from this injury make many daily tasks unmanageable. We won’t stop until every woman is found and treated. Help our team identify untreated obstetric fistula patients in isolated parts of Ethiopia.

How does obstetric fistula impact a woman's life?

Although the condition is almost entirely preventable, it is still a huge public health issue. Without a local understanding of the complication and its causes, a woman is frequently blamed for her condition.

Obstetric fistula leaves women incontinent and the stigma surrounding this condition in Ethiopia leads to humiliation and ostracization from the community.. Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia has focused on the holistic treatment of women and girls with obstetric fistulas in Ethiopia.

Symptoms of an obstetric fistula are urinary and/or fecal incontinence that can lead to severe infections and ulcerations of the vaginal tract. Some patients suffer from paralysis caused by nerve damage.

Survivors are often subject to severe social stigma due to their smell, perceptions of uncleanliness, a mistaken assumption of venereal disease and, in some cases, infertility. Nearly all patients at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital report psychological issues associated with their condition. Many marriages do not survive, simply unable to cope with the ongoing physical and emotional health issues.

Survivors are ostracized by the community and left voiceless and alone - cut off from family, economic opportunity and other avenues to leading a full, healthy and happy life.

Ethiopian women are actively involved in all aspects of their society’s life. Women are both producers and procreators and they are also active participants in the social, political, and cultural activities of their communities. This condition not only disables the woman in so many ways, the entire village feels the effects. Women with obstetric fistula are often outcast and therefore unproductive, their family and community suffer.

No woman should suffer the indignity of an obstetric fistula. Learn how Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia works to restore dignity of thousands of women.


Heartbreaking testimonials of women living with fistula


Can obstetric fistula be cured?

Yes. Obstetric fistula can be repaired with a single life-changing surgery performed by a skilled surgeon. Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is globally renowned for its obstetric fistula treatment technique. The women who receive this life-changing care are often too poor to pay. Their treatment is offered free thanks to donors like you.

Obstetric fistula can be repaired with a single life-changing surgery performed by a skilled surgeon.Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is globally renowned for its obstetric fistula treatment technique.

Can obstetric fistula be prevented?

In Western countries, like the United States and Canada, they are virtually a thing of the past because there is access to effective maternal healthcare. In countries like Ethiopia, more than 70% of births take place without a doctor or nurse present and more than 3,000 fistulas occur each year. With proper maternal healthcare, a well-trained midwife and access to an emergency caesarean section, this horrific childbirth injury is entirely preventable. At the Hamlin College of Midwives, we welcome students from the rural areas of Ethiopia for training to identify pregnancy complications and prevent obstetric fistula in the first place.When they graduate, these students return to serve in their villages and are often the only healthcare workers for hundreds of miles.


Recovering from obstetric fistula with the Hamlin Model of Care


 

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Ethiopian Surgeons in the middle of an obstetric fistula surgery
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All rights reserved 2020 Catherine Hamlin Foundation (R) (ABN58159647499)
Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation is fiscally sponsored by KBFUS (EIN582277856) and KBF Canada (RCO769784893RR0001)

Photography credits to Cameron Bloom, Nigel Brennan, Mary F. Calvert, Kate Geraghty, Amber Hooper, Joni Kabana, Johannes Remling and Martha Tadesse.