Every year about 100,000 women become victims of an injury that causes serious tissue damage to the vagina and bladder. The injury results in holes through which urine and feces pass uncontrollably. This condition, known as obstetric fistula, causes many problems for women in remote African communities. In many cases this condition is driven by premature procreation in young women. Aside from health concerns, fistula has also become a social stigma because of the unpleasant odor it produces. Typically these women are abandoned by both husband and community. This condition has gone unaddressed until now, but there is hope for a possible cure. The Fistula Foundation of Washington, DC, is supporting a hospital project that will seek out and treat victims. Tsedale Assefa is the Washington, DC area fundraising chair.
She explained the condition to Voice of America English to Africa reporter Angel Tabe. “It’s a childbirth injury. Usually, these are young girls who are malnourished. Their bodies are not ready to carry pregnancy. So the head of the baby pushes and leaves a hole where bodily waste leaks….”
Tsedale says those who survive still suffer devastating consequences. “They emanate an odor. Usually, the husband divorces them, the community turns them out and they have to live in isolation. It’s very difficult for them to live inside the house; they are always soiled.”
Tsedale says fistula victims cannot go to hospitals for a number of reasons, but they can be easily found. “These women have never heard of help, and fistula can be eradicated.” She says there are many ways to do that through better health care, poverty reduction, education, women’s rights and legislation.
“If there are health centers all over Africa, anything that lifts a woman out of poverty, there should be laws protecting girls against forced marriages, educate the girls and older people; that fistula is not talked about is a serious problem.” She says, “But it exists, and that is everyone’s shame. It’s very important that we talk about it where we wouldn’t before, with families at the dinner table, everywhere, until there is no more fistula to talk about.”
Funds raised by the Tesfa Ineste project by Ethiopians and their friends in the US, will build part of the Harrar Satellite Center, making treatment available to victims.
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