Field Updates

Meet Mpejiwa, an 80-year-old fistula survivor

Obstetric fistula is a devastating maternal injury caused by a tear between the birth canal, bladder, and/or rectum due to prolonged, obstructed labor without access to timely, high-quality medical treatment.

Mpejiwa, an 80-year-old resident of Mahaha Village in the Mwanza Region of Tanzania, lived with fistula for 35 years. After difficult labor pains in 1988, she went to a local dispensary where they detected no fetal heartbeat and was referred to an area clinic. Here, she was told that her child died in the uterus, and she delivered the fetus with the assistance of medical staff.

The next day, she experienced uncontrollable urination and defecation. Though she shared this with the staff, unfortunately, nothing was done about it, and she was discharged two weeks later with no follow-up.

Returning home with no funds to go back to the hospital for treatment, her community began bullying her and treating her like an outcast. Fistula leaves women with urinary or fecal incontinence, which unfortunately leaves them with a very intense, unpleasant smell. Her husband and family were able to save enough money to get her back to the hospital about a year later, where she did have surgery, but it was not enough to fully repair the fistula. When her husband passed away two years later, and her family couldn’t save enough to help her make another trip to the hospital, she started to isolate herself, removing herself from community activities and church participation altogether out of shame.

“I was embarrassed to meet people or socialize because of the unpleasant smell,” she says. Aside from the chronic medical problems, fistula causes women depression, social isolation, deepening poverty, and the total loss of self-esteem and confidence in themselves as women.

In December 2020, Charles, an Amref Fistula ambassador doing outreach in the village Mpejiwa, was from. Through Charles talking with her, Mpejiwa was referred to an area hospital for free treatment. After a nearly six-month stay, her fistula was repaired, and she was able to go back to living a normal life as an active member of her community and church. Mpejiwa promised to become a fistula ambassador in her community to promote awareness for other women who might be going through the same thing.

“As a fistula ambassador, I am happy to see Mpejiwa happy and living happily with her community. I hope to see more women come forward to seek treatment because fistula is treatable and free from all charges.”-Charles, Amref Tanzania Fistula Ambassador.

Through access and awareness, we can help ensure no woman has to experience the shame and isolation from this preventable injury and continue to provide reparative surgeries for women in need!

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