How 800 Nigerian women won the battle against obstetric fistula
26 May 2023
26 May 2023
Hafsatu Yunusa was 34 years old when she underwent repair surgery for obstetric fistula – but she had already lived with the condition for 20 years. Through those two decades, she endured pain, humiliation and isolation, and had almost accepted defeat after six failed surgeries. Obstetric fistula is a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder that is caused by prolonged obstructed labour, leaving a woman incontinent and leaking urine or faeces, or both. In 2016, with the help of funding provided by the UNFCU Foundation and UNFPA, Hafsatu finally went through a successful repair surgery.
Affiong, another obstetric fistula survivor from Calabar, the capital city of Cross River state in Nigeria, went through three days of prolonged labour in 2017. Devastatingly, her baby was stillborn. Abandoned by her husband while she suffered from grief and obstetric fistula, Affiong was heartbroken, and like Hafsatu, saw little hope. After a successful surgery in 2018, supported by the same fund, Affiong regained her confidence and looked forward to building a life for herself, perhaps even to finding love again.
The UNFCU Foundation funds projects that prioritize health care and humanitarian relief. A partnership between the UNFCU Foundation and UNFPA has impacted the lives of more than 800 women living with obstetric fistula in Nigeria over the last decade. The collaboration enables advanced reconstructive treatment options for obstetric fistula, social reintegration and economic rehabilitation support for survivors, as well as communications campaigns to drive awareness and advocacy on the cause.
Repair and health care
The programme with the UNFCU Foundation supports surgical treatments for women who had undergone previous unsuccessful surgeries. Alongside this, training and support are provided to community health workers on case identification and conducting preliminary screenings for fistula. Over the years, fistula repair equipment – including operating tables, lights, surgical kits and sterilizers – has been donated to general hospitals lacking adequate material. Finally, health centres are supported with essentials such as syringes, gloves and drugs to strengthen primary health care, which is key to fistula prevention.
Women with obstetric fistula suffer severe medical, psychological and social problems that impact their day-to-day lives. Many are rejected by their own families and communities, sent to live in hospitals or isolated with other women with similar conditions. The UNFPA programme enables psychosocial counselling for survivors, and home visits are conducted to dispel misconceptions among families and communities. Media campaigns disseminated via radio and television are used to drive awareness and increase public knowledge and community referrals.
The programme further supports obstetric fistula survivors with entrepreneurial skills training as well as start-up kits to launch sustainable businesses, for example in tailoring or coffee grinding. Amina received a sewing machine and material and went on to become the first female tailor in her village, as well as an advocate for ending obstetric fistula.
An estimated 500,000 women around the world live with obstetric fistula. UNFPA and its partners strive to #EndFistula, but the movement requires urgent action: Learn more about how support in the form of resources, advocacy and strengthened partnerships can help achieve this goal.