Our partner, Fistula Foundation, recently interviewed Dr. Hillary Mabeya, a surgeon in Kenya who specializes in repairing obstetric fistula. A fistula is an injury occurring during childbirth and results in leakage of urine and waste. It’s both a physically and emotionally traumatic condition. Dr. Mabeya began a fistula hospital in Eldorest, a town in Western Kenya, and called it Gynocare.
Q: How did you start Gynocare and what happens there?
A: We repair fistula injuries and provide other women’s health services, but fistula is my life’s passion. My colleagues thought I was a bit crazy when I came across an old house and started renovating it as a women’s center. The kitchen was turned into an operating room and the bathroom became a laboratory! But with a lot of hard work, Gynocare officially opened on a Saturday in 2011 when four patients were operated on in one day. Now, over 1,500 patients have had successful operations and have gone back to society to lead normal lives.
Q: How does Gynocare help them go back to society?
A: Gynocare introduced an integration program for patients, in addition to treatment and rehabilitation. These patients are women who have been shunned from society; they have no income. Some of them don’t have a place to go back to because they have been divorced from their families and husband. What we do is we give them some income generation skills, ideas and training, and some go back to school.
Q: Fistula is not a well-known issue. How did you first get involved, and what made you want to become a fistula surgeon?
A: My life in the fistula world started back in 1999, when I was a medical officer in West Pokot. This is the northern part of Kenya where I found many challenges for women. The majority of them came to the hospital with fistula, that’s leakage of urine and stool. At that time, there were no surgeons who could help these women to get treated. I became interested in learning the technique and helping these women get some care. It made me go back to the drawing board – I went back to school to do gynecology, and subsequently trained as a fistula surgeon.