Windhoek-Last year there were 15 recorded cases of women suffering from obstetric fistula, a condition which leaves women leaking urine, faeces or both.
This year, nine cases have been recorded since the beginning of the year, according to statistics availed by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Ministry of Health and Social Services.
Obstetric fistula is a condition in which a woman with the disease has a hole between the birth canal and bladder or rectum.
“It is caused by prolonged, obstructed labour without access to timely, high-quality medical treatment,” according to Philomena Ochurus, the UNFPA Namibia monitoring and evaluation specialist.
Women who are likely to suffer from obstetric fistula are those of child-bearing age (19-55), according to Dr Penoshinge Shikongo of Windhoek Central Hospital. Most of these women are from rural areas, added Shikongo.
“We see patients especially from Rundu referral hospital coming from Angola. We also see patients from Opuwo because of early child marriage. So far, we have two cases waiting for operation,” said Shikongo.
The operation takes about two hours and is mainly done at Windhoek Central Hospital as well as Oshakati Intermediate Hospital. Shikongo said that women suffering from the condition are affected psychologically.
“They feel isolated and are not accepted in the community. Most of the marriages are broken because of this condition. There is also financial loss,” said Shikongo.
Furthermore, Shikongo explained women distance themselves from community members because “they feel safe to be isolated because of the smell. Women suffering from this condition always have to use sanitary pads and other necessary stuff to keep dry.”
“Obstetric fistula is one of the most serious and tragic childbirth injuries,” added Ochurus. She explained that obstetric fistula is caused by prolonged, obstructed labour, without access to timely, high-quality medical treatment.
“It often leads to chronic medical problems, depression, social isolation and deepening poverty,” said Ochurus.
More than two million women in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Arab region, and Latin America and the Caribbean are estimated to be living with fistula, and some 50,000 to 100,000 new cases develop annually, according to UNFP statistics.
“Yet fistula is almost entirely preventable. Its persistence is a sign of global inequality and an indication that health systems are failing to protect the health and human rights of the poorest and most vulnerable women and girls,” Ochurus said.
UNFPA provides strategic vision, technical guidance and support, medical supplies, training and funds for fistula prevention, treatment and social reintegration programmes, said Ochurus. “UNFPA also strengthens reproductive healthcare and emergency obstetric services to prevent fistula from occurring in the first place,” she added.
Without emergency intervention, obstructed labour can last for days, resulting in death or severe disability, Ochurus said. The obstruction can cut off blood supply to tissues in the woman’s pelvis, she added.
“When the dead tissue falls away, she is left with a hole – a fistula, in medical terms – in the birth canal. There is a strong association between fistula and stillbirth, with research indicating approximately 90 percent of women who develop obstetric fistula end up delivering a stillborn baby,” Ochurus said.