Doctors United in Their Desire to Help Women

7 Mars 2005
Author: UNFPA

KANO, Nigeria—Dr. Said Ahmad Mohammad and Dr. Bill Meyer had never set eyes on each other until a little over a week ago. But together, the two surgeons from different sides of the Atlantic are united in their commitment to treat as many women as possible living with obstetric fistula.

Drs. Mohammad and Meyer are taking part in the “Fistula Fortnight,” a groundbreaking treatment and training program in northern Nigeria. “I think all of us who go into medicine get into this business to help people, as corny as it sounds,” said Dr. Meyer, who serves as Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “The way you can change a life operating on someone for just an hour or so – that’s as good as it gets.”

During the Fortnight, four international doctors from Britain and the United States joined forces for two weeks with expert and trainee surgeons from Nigeria to treat hundreds of women living with fistula.

“We’re all volunteering here,” Dr. Meyer said. “My work allows me to touch a lot of people. With these women, it’s an amazing experience to send them back to their villages and their families to a life that is a more normal existence. I’m impressed by their resilience.”

Obstetric fistula is a devastating childbirth injury that is common in countries with high maternal mortality rates. It occurs when a woman endures obstructed labour, often for several days, without receiving the necessary medical intervention. In nearly all cases, her baby dies and she is left with chronic incontinence.

“UNFPA is trying to help us help these poor women,” Dr. Mohammad said. “We should aim to set up a sustainable prevention and eradication program. I feel the staff¾the doctors, social workers and the nurses¾should be supported to live up to their expectations so that our common goal is achieved.”

Dr. Mohammad was selected to take part in the Fortnight because of his extensive experience as Medical Director of the Vesico-Vaginal Fistula (VVF) Center in Jigawa State. The doctor became interested in fistula more than a decade ago because he found too often his peers were neglecting these patients.

“The doctors were not interested in assessing their cases and their cases were always postponed. No doctor was looking out for them. I have an interest in helping these poor women. Now they tell me, ‘May God give you a good life and happiness,” said Dr. Mohammad, who has had the baby sons of five of his former patients named after him. He also often receives gifts, such as a chicken or eggs, from women grateful for their successful surgeries.

Dr. Mohammad was the third Nigerian doctor trained by Dr. Kees Waaldijk. The Dutch physician has been working for the past 20 years with the Nigerian Government to eradicate fistula. Dr. Waaldijk has surgically repaired more than 14,000 women and trained multiple surgeons, like Dr. Mohammad, to perform the operation.

In 1993, Dr. Mohammad received his certificate in fistula surgery. Since then, he has treated more than 2,500 women and passed on his expertise, training eight doctors in Kano and Jigawa. Now he is teaching his surgical techniques to Dr. Meyer, and visa versa, as part of the training component of the Fortnight.

“We’re learning from each other, because his approach is different from ours,” Dr. Mohammad said. “He exposes his own experience, and we share our experience with him.”

Dr. Meyer became interested in fistula after reading a newspaper article on Dr. Catherine Hamlin and her work at the world-renowned Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa. He traveled to Ethiopia in June last year where he observed over eighty fistula repairs by Dr. Hamlin and her surgical team during a two-week period.

Dr. Meyer recalls one particularly horrifying story of a young woman who laboured for three days. She eventually passed out from the pain. “When she regained consciousness, a hyena was eating her stillborn baby,” he said. Dr. Meyer thought the woman had hallucinated the event until he saw the large bite scar on her leg where the hyena had attacked her.

Dr. Meyer says he plans to continue helping fistula patients by volunteering later this year on the “Mercy Ship,” a humanitarian vessel docked off the coast of Sierra Leone that provides surgery for fistula patients. He has also been invited back by Dr. Waaldijk to further his training and operate on more fistula patients here in Nigeria.

“I have a really great life, and I don’t need to make more money. It’s enjoyable for me to do this,” Dr. Meyer said. “The patients can’t help that they leak. That is the tragedy of their lives. Usually you have a hard time taking things that are broken and putting them back together again, but this is a good example of that.”


—Angela Walker

Population : 206.1 mil
Taux de fertilité
Ratio de mortalité maternelle
Taux de prévalence contraceptive
Population âgée de 10 à 24 ans

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