This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
By Kate Grant
CEO, Fistula Foundation
In the summer of 2013, Dr. Ganesh Dangal boarded a plane from his home in Kathmandu, Nepal, to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. It was a trip that would set his professional life on a new and exciting path: he was to become one of the first surgeons trained through the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) Global Competency-Based Fistula Surgery Training Program. This is the world’s first and only internationally recognized fistula training program, based on a path-breaking manual developed for the treatment of obstetric fistula, a childbirth injury suffered most commonly by poor women who give birth in places without access to emergency obstetric care.
An obstetric fistula occurs when a woman’s labor becomes obstructed and constant pressure from the baby’s head on the pelvis cuts off the flow of oxygenated blood, causing tissue to die. As a result, a hole develops that causes her to become incontinent. The smell of the incontinence too often spurs her husband to leave and the community to abandon her. She sometimes thinks it’s her fault, believing she’s cursed. Even worse, her child usually does not survive. This injury devastates the lives of one million women globally.
Fistula can be complicated for a surgeon to repair. While some cases can be treated quickly, in under one hour, more often than not, treatment requires a surgeon with advanced skills and sometimes even several rounds of surgery to complete. In the hands of a surgeon whose level of skill does not meet the complexity of the injury, more harm can be done to the patient than good. This is why it is so critical for fistula surgeons to be properly trained, and is what prompted FIGO to develop its training manual.