Last week, Uganda joined the rest of the world to mark the International Day to end obstetric fistula, a child-bearing injury, which results from prolonged and obstructed labour. While this condition is preventable, there is inadequate awareness, especially in rural areas. This trend must be reversed by giving women and girls relevant information about fistula, including prevention and treatment options.
One of the key issues to address is stigma. Because obstetric fistula leads to uncontrolled passing of urine, which leaves a bad odour, often times affected women suffer in silence. As a result, the women are left in shame and isolated. This means obstetric fistula not only physically stresses but also psychologically traumatises victims.
As statistics show, obstetric fistula is grave in Uganda. According to the Uganda Democratic Health Survey, one in every four girls between 15 and 19 years is already a mother or pregnant with her first child and two of these girls are victims of fistula. Moreover, it is estimated one in every 50 Ugandan women of reproductive age has fistula. More so, the babies often die during the prolonged birth process. Overall, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says more than 200,000 women in Uganda live with obstetric fistula complications, with more than 1,900 cases occurring annually.
These grim statistics must not be allowed to undermine the wellbeing of Ugandan women and girls. This is the reason Ugandans should join the fight against obstetric fistula and help women and girls regain their dignity.
First, obstetric fistula is treatable by a surgical repair of the ruptured bladder or a hole in the birth canal. Second, obstetric fistula is preventable and Ugandans can make the solutions easy. As Mulago hospital senior midwife Christine Achan advises, women and teenage girls should attend antenatal care in the very early stages of their pregnancies and get expert advice to check fistula. This is essential as fistula happens most in teenagers and first-time pregnant mothers and can recur medical follow-up is not carried out.
Third, Ugandans should heed Health minister Ruhakana Rugunda’s call to help young girls stay longer in school, complete tertiary education, and delay childbearing until they are at least 20 years and ready to cope with stress of pregnancies and rigours of child birth.
Fourth, young girls who are not ready for pregnancies should be encouraged to use family planning methods to avoid early and risky pregnancies. Even for women whose bodies have matured, they need to plan and space childbirth to allow the body recover.
The appeal by UNFPA is key. Let us push on the fight against fistula, track and treat all cases.
Together, we can change the lives of Ugandan women.