Pregnancy should be a moment of immense joy for mothers-to-be. It is an unprecedented period of change, both for the body and for the mind. In the Global North, pregnancy appears to be a common and safe process, but it is still subject to great risks for the health of the mother and the unborn child. Particularly in the Global South, deliveries still occur without medical assistance and cases of uterus rupture and internal bleeding are quite frequent. A risk that is rarely talked about is the obstetric fistula. The effects it can have on mothers are extremely severe, both from a health and a social standpoint.
What is obstetric fistula?
We talk about an obstetric fistula when a hole between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum is formed. Occurrence of obstetric fistula is due to prolonged obstruction during childbirth and causes severe damage to the reproductive system of the woman, not to mention the psychological consequences.
The obstruction can last for several days. If the baby fails to pass through the pelvis, it causes the so-called obstructed labor. The perforation can form in several places, generating different kinds of obstetric fistulas: from the vesico-vaginal fistula (a hole formed between the bladder and the vagina), to the uretero-vaginal fistula (a hole between the ureter and the vagina). The formation of obstetric fistulas, if left untreated, can cause irreversible damage.
The occurrence of an untreated obstetric fistula causes leakage of urine and faeces, which can lead to infections, vaginal tissue damage, genital ulcerations, sores, and secondary infertility. Although it is a treatable condition, the lack of medical services, accessibility problems and high costs often mean that many women continue to suffer from it without any form of help.
The stigma and social consequences of obstetric fistula
Leaking by obstetric fistula causes a strong odor. This pushes women on the fringes of society due to a condition that is not under their control. A real stigmatization that often pushes husbands or other family members to distance themselves from women, denying them fundamental support in such a moment.
As mentioned, obstetric fistula often causes infertility. This can cause severe psychological stress and trauma to the women in question.
Prevention and treatment of obstetric fistula
Obstetric fistulas can be treated, which can prevent symptoms and reduce the chances of changes in women's quality of life. Through surgery, the hole created during labor can be closed, even restoring fertility, reducing and preventing further complications. Quick and targeted intervention allows for safe births in the future and reduces the chances of being victims of stigmatization.
For the treatment of obstetric fistulas doctors and specialized healthcare centers are necessary to treat the condition. In the Global South, access to such services is practically absent. It is necessary to promote the training of specialized midwives and the reintegration of patients into society after operations.
Together for a safe motherhood
World Day for the Elimination of Obstetric Fistula is the time to stop ignoring this condition, especially as it is completely unknown to a large part of the population. It is impossible to ignore the extreme consequences this condition has on women's health and their daily lives.
World Friends has always been on the side of mothers, focusing on maternal and child health in most of its initiatives and with the work carried out at the Ruaraka Uhai Neema Hospital. As we create solutions for these medical conditions, it is important to make treatment more accessible, leaving no mother behind.