Fistula is an abnormal passage, or hole, that develops between the birth canal and one or more of a woman’s internal organs. It is an injury that oftentimes occurs during childbirth, usually when a woman is in labor too long or when the delivery is obstructed in some way. It occurs in settings where there is limited access to skilled medical care or cesarean section operations. While it is almost always preventable, fistula is all too common in the developing world, where it is estimated to affect more than 2 million girls and women.
Consequences of fistula are life-altering: For women with obstetric fistula, the baby usually dies during labor, and the mother is left with chronic incontinence, often leading to isolation from family and community life and neglect or abandonment by male partners. Without surgical repair, a woman’s prospects for work or family support are greatly diminished, and she is often left to rely on charity. These problems are compounded in cases of traumatic fistula, which is caused by rape or sexual violence. In these cases, women face greater psychological trauma and increased vulnerability to HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.
In up to 90% of cases, the fistula can be surgically repaired.
Fistula in Guinea
While fistula is almost unheard of in developing countries, it is all too common in countries like Guinea. According to Engender Health, from January 2006 to June 2010, 2,333 women needed fistula repairs. Of these, 1,412 received interventions and 1,056 were cured. These surgical intervent
ions happened in the hospitals of Kissidougou, Labe, Ignace Deen and Jean Paul II in Conakry.
AFG Gets Involved
Since 2009, we have been involved in providing over a hundred fistula repair kits to women throughout Guinea. Each kit contains all the necessary supplies and medication for a woman to undergo repair surgery. In 2011, Engender Health approached AFG and requested our help in a different way. A transition house was necessary to house women who came to Jean Paul II Hospital to receive treatment.
To that end, the organization spent 50 thousand dollars to renovate an existing guest house and build a transition facility in the premises.
Graciously named after our Health Program Director, the Bebe Diaraye Sylla Help Center, which opened in May 2011, can house 17 women at a time, and serves as a recovery area for patients, so they may receive post-surgical care until they are released from physician supervision. This has tripled the number of women that can be treated in any give three-month surgical session. In 2011 alone, 240 women benefited from this effort.
In 2012, we provided 12 surgical kits to doctors in three medical sites throughout Guinea. Each of these contain specialized surgical implements and will allow doctors to operate on hundreds, even thousands, of women for an entire year. We also furnished mattresses and medication carts for the transition center at Kissidougou.