Fatima went into labor with her first child at the age of 16. As is custom in her nomadic community in western Sudan, she planned to deliver the baby at home. But after three days of complications, she embarked on a half-day trek by camel to the nearest hospital. When she arrived, her baby was delivered stillborn by Caesarian section. But Fatima’s journey did not end there.
Fatima’s prolonged labor caused an obstetric fistula – a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder. The only solution is surgery, which she couldn’t afford. After returning home, her husband divorced her, blaming the smell created by the continuous leak of urine caused by the injury.
The Fistula Foundation funds more obstetric fistula surgeries than any other non-governmental organization in the world. When Kate Grant MPA ’94 joined the Foundation as its first CEO in 2005, it supported surgeries at one institution in Ethiopia. Since then, the Foundation has helped women in 29 countries in Africa and Asia.
Fatima received surgery at a treatment center funded by the Foundation. The accompanying psychological rehabilitation eased the depression that had overtaken her life, allowing her to reclaim her dignity. She now advocates for maternal health and runs her own small business in her community. Fatima is planning for her future, including remarrying and having children.
Data can be difficult to collect due to the condition’s associated isolation and shame. However, a recent
meta-analysis published by the London School of Tropical Hygiene & Medicine looked at all relevant studies in the region’s low- and middle-income countries. The report estimates one million women are suffering from obstetric fistulas.