Listening to Hope FM radio today at around midday, I realized they had a very interesting topic in their discussion and guests. The discussion was on Fistula a condition that many people do not know about and those suffering from it have suffered in silence for a long time, because of the condition it puts them in.
The guests talking on Fistula were Dr. Kiiru a Gynecologist and Surgeon, a survivor Silvia and a representative of Jamaa hospital Sister Charity where operations on Fistula patients are done. I was keen to know about this condition that many women have suffered from in silence and was glad it was brought on air. Dr. Kiiru explained that Fistula is an abnormal hole in the birth canal of a woman. This condition is caused mainly by child delivery, when something goes wrong during birth.
Other causes are accidents causing fracture on the pelvis, cancer of the cervix, ulcers in the birth canal when the wound is left unattended. Abortion is also another cause and also when surgery of the pelvis is not done well. However, 80% of cases in Kenya are due to delivery for example during prolonged labor a woman under poor medical care, especially those who deliver at home are at a higher risk of getting Fistula.
Fistula is a very serious condition that mostly affects women. It is so embarrassing because it causes frequent dripping of urine and in other cases leaking of stool. Patients have to use sanitary pads everyday. Silvia who has survived Fistula after undergoing an operation at Jamaa Hospital told listeners that she could use up to 10 pads in a day. Patients from poor background are not in a position to buy sanitary pads and have to use pieces of clothes. The Doctor talked of patients traveling from the rural areas with bags full of clothes to change every time they go to the toilet. I was surprised to hear men can also get Fistula when they get involved in an accident or a fall that can injure their private parts. There are also those born with the condition which is called congenital fistula.
Other causes of fistula are traditional practices such as early marriage, where early childbirth can cause this condition because the girls’ pelvis is not yet mature. FGM is also another cause of this condition. Poverty and lack of education is another cause when women deliver at home under unskilled attendants. Malnourished patients due to poverty are at risk of getting this condition when the patient’s body is poorly formed.
Patients with Fistula are stigmatized by the society. This is why many people do not know about it, because many patients rarely talk about their conditions for fear of stigma. They avoid being in public for fear of smelling urine or stool and having to rush to the toilet frequently. Apart from smelling it causes limping in patients, ulcers in the private parts, isolation many have been neglected and some divorced by their husbands. Hence patients apart from suffering from the medical conditions, they suffer from psychological feelings that can make them suicidal.
I was really touched by Silvia’s story, she is lucky to have got help through the hospital after watching a documentary on TV and her husband stood by her all the time. Dr. Kiiru said he is one of the only three surgeons of Fistula in the country. This is shocking because there are many surgeons in the country but only three for this serious condition and all are based in Nairobi. There is need for more Doctors to be trained so that patients do not have to travel all the way to Nairobi for treatment in their embarrassing condition.
They appealed to people to enlighten the society so that those suffering can seek help. The condition is curable through surgery which costs Kshs.50,000 (and above depending on the condition) at Jamaa Hospital. Since this is not affordable to most poor people who are the majority, they hospital gets sponsors to pay for the patients trip to and from Nairobi and the surgery cost. They have sponsors like Safaricom and Freedom from Fistula Foundation that is working hard to help clear this condition, amongst others.
Jamaa Hospital is situated in Eastland part of Nairobi. One can get there by public means using matatu (minibus) no. 23. They have two hotlines for patients to call which are 0718100000 and 0737100800.
Help save Fistula patients.