An obstetric fistula is a medical condition where an opening develops in the birth canal after delivery. It can be between the vagina and rectum, ureter or bladder. This happens when the tissues between these organs are deprived of blood for a long period, for instance in obstructed labor. The pressure to the tissues result to weakening and tearing, resulting to leakage of contents between the affected organs. The vesico-vaginal fistula (between bladder and vagina) is characterized by the leakage of the urine through the vagina, and recto-vaginal fistula (between vagina and rectum) is characterized by the leakage of flatus and stool through the vagina. Most fistulas occur in countries in sub-Saharan Africa or south Asia with poorly-resourced health systems.
Risk factors of obstetric fistulae are obstructed labor, malnutrition, poor medical care during birth and teenage pregnancy. Signs and symptoms include urinary or fecal incontinence, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, repeated vaginal or urinary tract infections, irritation in the vagina or surrounding areas, and pain during sexual activity.
These symptoms, especially foul-smelling lead to social stigmatization of the affected women while in some countries like Burkina Faso, it is believed that obstetric fistula is not a medical condition. The citizens believe that it is a divine punishment for sexual misconduct of a woman. The woman experiences psychological trauma due to the stigmatization and humiliation from cultures who do not understand the condition. The good news is that obstetric fistulae can always be surgically corrected and once healing happens, the woman can live healthy. Awareness should be widely done to curb the myths and misconceptions about this frustrating condition in order to encourage the affected women to seek medical attention. Fistula Foundation’s pioneering treatment network in Kenya is connecting more women than ever before with this life-transforming surgeryFollow us in social media: