By Lindsey Pollaczek, Senior Program Director Lupaula Province, Zambia — Amidst the throngs of women and children at Kabole Health Center in northern Zambia, twenty women slowly boarded a dusty green bus with Mansa General Hospital emblazoned in white lettering on the side. As the women took their seats and waited for the bus to…
Jenipher developed obstetric fistula while giving birth to her fifth child. She endured a prolonged labor and waited many hours to be seen at the health center, and this facility didn’t refer her to a hospital in time. When she finally managed to get to a hospital, but it was too late—the baby was stillborn and Jenipher was leaking urine uncontrollably. Her suffering started immediately, and the hospital didn’t know how to help her. In 1998, there really was nowhere else for her to seek medical treatment.
Jenipher’s husband started sleeping with other women, telling her that her smell was unacceptable. People in her community laughed at her and blamed her for being abandoned by her husband. Jenipher struggled to make money to provide for the basic needs of her young children. She went to many traditional healers seeking help, but none of their remedies worked. After 18 years of living with fistula, she resigned herself to living with the condition for the rest of her life.
In February of 2017, Jenipher heard a comforting voice on the radio—Fistula Foundation’s Program Manager, Bwalya Chomba—speaking in a familiar language about treatment for fistula, even for those women who had lived for so many years with the condition. Maybe it wasn’t too late for her, Jenipher thought. At that moment, she made a decision. Jenipher would make the trip to Mansa and try to seek treatment one last time – she would rather die than continue to live in shame.
Jenipher received a warm reception at Mansa General Hospital by both doctors and staff. The surgeon told Jenipher that hers was a difficult case, and she had to stay longer at the hospital to ensure a full recovery. Now that she is home, she is so grateful to the Foundation and to the donors who allowed her to get the help she needed after so many years. She never imagined the day she would get better. Jenipher said that while living with fistula she was half dead, but now, after treatment, she had come back to life.
“I am so happy to be dry!” she exclaimed.
Fistula Foundation is grateful to our many dedicated partners in Zambia including the Ministry of Health and Provincial and District Health teams, and to Johnson and Johnson who generously provided funding to enable this work in Zambia.
- Population: 15,510,711
- Average Births per Woman: 5.67
- Female Literacy: 56%
- Population Living in Poverty: 60.5% (less than $1.25/day)