News / Health

Q&A with Kate Grant: Helping Women with Fistulas

FILE - Women receiving treatment for obstetric fistula inside a clinic in Uganda.
FILE - Women receiving treatment for obstetric fistula inside a clinic in Uganda.
Frances Alonzo
The stories are heartbreaking - pregnant women in remote rural areas in Asia enduring a long or often difficult labor, some losing their babies. The women are left with incontinence and leaking wastes from obstetric fistulas. Some husbands abandon their wives, while others try to find help, but the road is long and the women are often ostracized by their communities for these birth injuries. 
 
However, the Fistula Foundation is one of the groups that have been supporting women, telling every woman with a fistula that it is possible to be cured and to feel hopeful once again. VOA's Frances Alonzo spoke with Kate Grant, the CEO of the Fistula Foundation.

 
GRANT: It’s basically a hole between an internal organ and the outside world that shouldn’t exist. In this case, it’s holes in bladder, vaginas, sometimes rectum that leave a woman incontinent. So again, it’s a childbirth injury that occurs because women don’t have access to emergency obstetric care that leaves them incontinent. The good news is most of the time those fistulas can be sewn up by a trained surgeon and that woman can be given back continence and health.
 
ALONZO: How many women in Asia are affected by this?
 
GRANT: We don’t have exact numbers, Frances, and it’s not that we don’t want them. The W.H.O. doesn’t have them, the U.N. doesn’t have them, because this happens to women in usually the remotest part of developing countries. We don’t have a specific number, we have a global number of one million women that are affected, a proportion of those in Asia, the balance in sub-Saharan Africa.
 
ALONZO: Is there a social stigma to having a fistula?
 
GRANT:  There is incredible social stigma in having a fistula. And the reason is that women that have this are usually the poorest women in the poorest countries in the most remote areas. So trying to deal with incontinence if you are living in a remote rural area where you’ve got a dirt floor, that incontinence becomes something that makes your day-to-day very difficult to manage. And also because of a lack of understanding about what causes it, that it’s a birth injury rather than occurred for no fault of the woman. There can be belief systems that demonize that woman for the reason that she got this was something that she had done, something bad. And that she had gotten this injury as kind of a punishment. That’s not true either. 
 
ALONZO: Does it matter how old the mother is? Her age?
 
GRANT: Generally we see most fistulas happening on a first birth which means the woman is usually younger, late teens, early twenties. The earlier a woman has a child the more trouble you are going to have with fistula and with other birth injuries. So, yes, a teenage mother, one that is 13, 14, 15, where their pelvis is not yet fully developed, is more likely to get a fistula than an older mother. But, even older mothers get fistulas, it’s not just about age.
 
ALONZO: Can you tell me what Asian countries are making strides in helping women, and what are those countries that are lagging behind?
 
GRANT: Unfortunately, the same countries where we see high infant mortality rates, we see high maternal mortality rates. These things tend to go together. When the women die, the babies die too. The countries which lag behind and have still the highest maternal and infant mortality rates are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Cambodia and even Bangladesh, although Bangladesh has made some strides in recent years.
 
The countries that have done much better, obviously they are very developed Asian countries… like Japan, Singapore, South Korea has extremely low maternal mortality rates.
 
Some countries that are kind of in the middle that have made progress that have a ways to go would be Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, even China. But those countries, the last four that I mentioned are definitely moving in the right direction [and] have rapidly dropping child and maternal mortality rates. And it’s that initial list that I gave you, the Afghanistan, Pakistan, where there is still a great deal of work to do.
 
ALONZO: What keeps you going? Is there something that fuels you to say, “I’m ready to face this again and I’m ready to help women with this issue?”
 
GRANT:  That’s a very good question about what’s important in continuing to progress. It’s easy. We have pictures all over our office of the women we have been able to help, the courageous doctors that we are funding to do this work. And we have in our conference room a huge map of the world where we have all of the sites where we are funding and a big graph on the wall that shows the number of surgeries we are able to fund every year has grown dramatically.

We’ve tripled the number of surgeries we are able to fund just in the last four years. And behind those numbers are women. Individual women. I’ve met them. I’ve met them in Bangladesh, I’ve met them in Pakistan. Women who’ve suffered like no woman should have to suffer simply for trying to bring a child into the world. 

Fistula is a tough concept because talking about incontinence, where you have to talk about it. If you want to understand it, you have to talk about feces and urine and vaginas and rectums. It’s a taboo subject. And one can understand this, one can understand this is not something pleasant to understand. The human impact is so profound that people shy away from it. So the more people come forward and say, “yeah, I’ll do my part” to broaden the circle of awareness about this problem, the more women we know we will be able to help.

You May Like

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race in military confinement to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid