Launched in 2014 thanks to support from Astellas Pharma EMEA, Action on Fistula has provided training to increase the number of surgeons treating fistula in Kenya, developed a countrywide network of hospitals offering free treatment, and has delivered free reparative surgery to more than 2,500 women suffering from this devastating childbirth injury.
In Western Kenya, in the town of Busia, Christine lived happily with her husband and five children, eagerly anticipating the arrival of her sixth. In December 2011, Christine went into labor. The pain was excruciating, and Christine was eventually rushed to Busia District Hospital.
But doctors at government hospitals throughout Kenya, including Busia District Hospital, were in the midst of an industrial strike over pay and other working conditions, and the hospital was being managed by nurses. Christine’s condition worsened and she grew tired and weary; surgery became necessary to save Christine’s life and that of her unborn child. Nurses suggested that Christine be transferred to a nearby private health facility.
But the hospital had only one ambulance, and it was being used to transfer other patients to private health facilities so they could receive care that the nurses could not provide. When Christine finally arrived at a private health facility, doctors demanded Ksh 30,000 for her surgery – about €273 – a large sum of money that Christine did not have at that point in time.
The situation grew dire and the last conversation Christine remembers hearing was the voice of a nurse making a telephone call saying, “Uncle, can you come to save a life?”
When Christine came to, hours later, she learned that despite the late hour and transport being a challenge for the doctor, he had traveled over an hour by motorbike from Port Victoria to operate on her. Christine’s baby did not survive the surgery. And Christine learned that the prolonged obstructed labor had resulted in an obstetric fistula.
The doctor instructed Christine to remain in the clinic on a catheter for seven days, but nurses removed the catheter and discharged her only four days later. And then Christine’s life took another heartbreaking turn for the worse.
Once home, Christine’s incontinence made the house smell terrible. She was unable to perform her regular household duties and her children had to shoulder the burden of running the household. Her husband left, abandoning Christine and their five children. For many years, Christine stayed isolated, suffering with depression for many years until her children finally reached out to her brothers. As a grown woman who had been married, it was not a welcome practice in the culture for Christine to live with her brothers. But they insisted on helping and took Christine and her children to Kisumu County, to a town called Daraja Mbili.
One day, while listening to Radio Nam Lolwe, a local radio station, Christine heard an advertisement about free obstetric fistula services being offered by Action on Fistula outreach partners Disciples of Mercy, through the support of the Action on Fistula program. A telephone help line was advertised, making it easy for Christine to reach out to the organization for help. After a verbal telephone screening, Christine was referred to Kisumu East District Hospital, where she was screened and admitted for fistula repair.
Today, Christine is a happy woman. No longer incontinent, she is proud to have regained her dignity and her health.
- Population: 45,010,056
- Average Births per Woman: 3.54
- Female Literacy: 84.2%
- Population Living in Poverty: 43.4% (less than $1.25/day)