Fistula survivors given a second chance at life

23 May 2017

Hafsatu yunusa, a 34 year old fistula survivor was diagnosed with Vesico Vaginal fistula deemed irreparable. She had 6 failed attempts and lived with the condition for 20 years. “I got married at age 14 and was in labour for 3 days” she said.  Hafsatu, was too young to be pregnant and with no skilled birth attendant, was more susceptible to pregnancy related complications.

Vesico Vaginal fistula, commonly known as 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. It is a long term consequence of early marriage, where a child that is too young to wed gets pregnant and is physically unable to deliver a baby naturally. Without access to emergency obstetric care or a caesarian section, she and the baby may die; if they survive, she has experienced so much internal pelvic damage that she leaks urine or feces, or both continuously, without any control.

Survivors of fistula, are often neglected by their family and friends and confined to an involuntary life of solitary. “I spent a long time suffering from the ailment” says Hafsatu, “I remember how lonely I was, I did not participate in feasts or visit relatives, and when my first surgery failed, then the 2nd, the 3rd, the 4th ... I thought I was condemned to spend the rest of my life in shame but thank God I was wrong”.  

With one in four rural Northern Nigerian girl married off before her eighteenth birthday, obstetric fistula is a condition predominantly found in Northern Nigeria. Every year, there are about 120, 000 new cases that occur.  Preventable and treatable, it is a condition no one should have to endure.

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, together with partners is leading a global campaign to end fistula within a generation. The Fund works to strengthen health care systems and improve access to reproductive health care services including family planning. In addition, with support from the United Nations Federal Credit Union, UNFPA provides Fistula reconstruction surgeries to survivors and empowers them with vocational skills and start up kits so they can be economically vibrant and begin the process of re-integration into the community.

Hafsatu, is one of the fistula cases treated, a graduate of the livelihood skills acquisition programme and a beneficiary of a start-up kit to support her new business. She is now reunited with her husband and community.

“I thank God that I can now sit with people and socialize. I have acquired a means of livelihood and I have equipment needed to kick start my business. Thank you for taking people like me out of poverty and misery” she said.

Nigeria has the highest absolute number of fistula cases worldwide. “We remain committed to work with the Federal Government of Nigeria and other countries where this condition is prevalent, to remove the contributors to obstetric fistula - Child marriage, early pregnancy, Lack of education and limited access to health care – until fistula becomes history”, said Mabingue Ngom, UNFPA Regional Director of West and Central Africa.