Repairing fistula and giving women their lives back

Fistula is a hole that develops between the vagina and bladder and is caused by complications during delivery. Women who live with fistula often face alienation from their community because the condition leads to the constant leaking of urine. It is estimated that in Kenya, there are 56,000 new cases of fistula every year.

Rosemary was one of these women. Rosemary lives in the Mathare area of Nairobi, Kenya and she and her husband were living a happy life. She was studying tailoring, selling clothes in her own kiosk and was expecting a baby.

But when she went into labor, things went wrong. She went to Mbagathi District Hospital in Nairobi in time but she had to wait for an entire day without medical assistance while she suffered from prolonged labor. By the time medical staff performed a cesarean section, the baby had already died.

Soon after, Rosemary discovered she was leaking urine. She could get an operation to repair the fistula at Kenyatta National Hospital, but there was a month-long wait for the procedure.

At home, the constant leaking really affected Rosemary’s life: “I stayed indoors the whole day, hiding myself because I felt so ashamed and was so scared that people would find out that I was leaking urine. I already heard that people were talking about me. People didn’t understand what a fistula was.”

Rosemary stopped selling clothes, she quit her tailoring studies, and she didn’t leave the house or see friends. She continues: “If I had an appointment at the hospital, I went before dusk and came back after dawn. Although it’s very dangerous to walk in the dark, I did everything to prevent people from discovering I was leaking urine.”

Rosemary did undergo surgery to repair the fistula at Kenyatta National Hospital, but every time, she would start to leak again. This happened four times.

Fortunately, when Rosemary went to the hospital for her fifth surgery, Amref Health Africa was holding a free medical camp to provide surgeries to women living with fistula. Rosemary says, “Amref Health Africa treated me very differently: during counseling sessions Amref-trained nurses gave me much more information about what I had to do after the surgery and why. And this time, I followed the advice and the leaking stopped.”

“I’m so extremely happy that I’m healed now! Amref Health Africa gave my life back. The surgery changed my life so much.”

And now I try to help other women as well. I frequently visit other communities and talk to them about fistula, so people better understand this medical condition, start to understand that you don’t have to feel ashamed about it and learn that it can be fixed. I want other women to become just like me: to become happy and healthy again.”

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