Mulanje Fistula repair camp offers hope, restores dignity to women

Women from Mulanje and surrounding districts have been accorded a life-changing opportunity to access obstetric fistula treatment through a Fistula Repair Camp the district hospital is currently conducting.

Malawi Fistula Patients
Malawi Fistula Patients
A fistula patient, stands outside a clinic in Malawi.
A fistula patient, stands outside a clinic in Malawi.

The hospital, for the first time, is conducting the camp which will run from 2nd to 6th November with support from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Operation Fistula and Fistula Foundation and there are prospects that the district will have a permanent Fistula Care Centre to repair cases regularly.

District Health Officer for the hospital, Doctor Khuliena Kabwere disclosed that about 25 women with fistula problem were expected to benefit from the camp which as of Thursday (4th November) had already repaired about 11 cases.

Kabwere said the camp would help to build the capacity of local doctors, adding obstetric fistula was preventable if expectant women are offered good maternal services.

“This is why we encourage expectant women to deliver in recognized health facilities to avoid developing such health problems.  The camp has offered hope to those affected,” explained Kabwere.

He then welcomed plans by Operation Fistula and UNFPA to establish a Fistula Care Centre in the district as it will reduce the distance women with fistula problem cover in search for treatment.

“Before the camp, patients were being referred to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) or Bwaila Fistula Care Centre in Lilongwe if cases are complicated. The establishment of the care centre will be good development as patients will be able to be repaired within the district. Distance sometimes force people not access treatment,” he added.

UNFPA Representative, Violet Kakyomya disclosed Mulanje district was strategically selected because of more women that have fistula and have nowhere to seek repair services.

“We chose southern region because there are a lot of fistula incidents and districts here have not had a chance to host such camps. We are also looking at the prospect of opening a care centre to treat patients regularly, which we believe will save more lives. Fistula incapacitates women that they can’t successfully play their role in a society,” said Kakyomya.

Operation Fistula founder, Seth Cochran said his organization was focusing on preventing fistula and not only providing treatment, adding surgical care has been one of challenges in repairing fistula

Cochran said they were evaluating the environment and surgical capacity of health facilities as well as and government’s interest in several health facilities in Mulanje district before establishing a Fistula Care Centre.

He further disclosed that his institution would be providing cash infusions to the care centre which some will cater for workers’ salaries.

“We expect to procure equipment such as lights, operating tables and scissor equipment for the facility; we will provide products that are suitable for the African environment,” he said.

According to UNFPA, Mulanje District Hospital stands a chance to house the Fistula Care Centre as it has already existing structures that may only require renovation, procurement of equipment and increase the number of trained health workers to work at the facility.

During the Mulanje Fistula Camp, doctors managed to repair a woman who has lived with
the problem since 1949 as well as two 17-year-old teen mothers.  The repairs are being done for free.

Obstetric fistula is a hole in the birth canal that results from prolonged and obstructed labor when women do not have access to a skilled birth attendant and emergency obstetric care.

It stems from soft tissue tears, leaving women with urinary or fecal incontinence, in pain, prone to chronic infections and often isolated and abandoned by husbands, family and community.

The injury is largely treatable by surgery and can dramatically improve the health and lives of women affected.

The World Health Organization estimates two to three million women and girls live with obstetrical
fistula in developing countries, with 50,000 new fistula cases occurring each year.


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