An obstetric fistula is a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder that is caused by prolonged obstructed labor, leaving a woman incontinent of urine or feces or both.
For women with obstructed labor, labor that goes unattended, the labor can last up to six or seven days. The labor produces contractions that push the baby’s head against the mother’s pelvic bone. The soft tissues between the baby’s head and the pelvic bone are compressed and do not receive adequate blood flow. The lack of blood flow causes this delicate tissue to die, and where it dies holes are created between the laboring mother’s bladder and vagina and/or between the rectum and vagina. This is what produces incontinence in a fistula patient.
Who It Happens To
Obstetric fistula most commonly occurs among women who live in low-resource countries, who give birth without access to medical help. If a woman’s labor becomes obstructed, she could remain in excruciating pain for days before her baby is finally dislodged. Her baby likely dies and she is often left with an obstetric fistula, a small hole created by constant pressure from the fetus, which renders her incontinent.
Rejection and Isolation
A woman with fistula is too often rejected by her husband and pushed out of her village due to her foul smell.
The Numbers are Staggering
One million women suffer from obstetric fistula. Fewer than 20,000 women are treated each year. (Chart based on Global Fistula Map data)