Surgery repairs fistula and restores dignity and hope. Photo: David Synder

International Day to End Fistula

Surgery repairs fistula and restores dignity and hope. Photo: David Synder

Today is International Day to End Fistula.  I’m glad that the international community is coming together to bring global focus on an issue that affects about 2 million women in developing countries, with 100,000 new cases each year.  The sad truth is, fistula is completely preventable with the right access to maternal care, trained birth attendants and availability of emergency obstetric care – in most cases a simple C-section.

When I think about fistula, I think about a young woman who received care in the AmeriCares fistula repair project at Bugando Medical Centre in Tanzania, with gift-in-kind support from Ethicon, part of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies.

Mercy* was 18 years old when she arrived at the hospital with a fistula she had acquired after 2 days of labor without medical intervention. Mercy lost her baby, but developed a fistula – a hole in her birth canal — which left her incontinent.  As a domestic worker earning less than $2 a month, Mercy could not afford curative surgery. But after learning about our project at Bugando Medical Centre which offers free care and a transportation fund to help impoverished patients like her, she was able to have her fistula reversed and her dignity restored.

This video, produced for Johnson & Johnson, was filmed in Ethiopia and Tanzania in March of 2013.

Mercy’s story is a common one in sub-Saharan Africa: a young girl living in poverty with no access to family planning gets pregnant and endures long hours of labor without the presence of a trained birth attendant.  Because most of these young girls have bodies not completely ready for birth, their babies have difficulties getting through the birth canal and often die – leaving the mother not only childess, but ostracized and stigmatized.  Many girls and young women just like Mercy suffer with this condition for years — even a lifetime — because of the lack of local awareness that fistulas can be reversed.

Today and every day, AmeriCares is working to change that.

In Tanzania, public service announcements on local radio get the word out that fistulas ARE reversible, and that care is available free of charge at Bugando.  We are also taking the message to the rural areas with outreach campaigns that not only inform the community about the cost-free curative surgery, but bring qualified doctors to conduct those surgeries to the local district hospital.

So one Mercy at a time, we’re providing hope and restoring dignity to fistula patients in Tanzania — something to celebrate on this International Day to End Fistula.

Learn more about our work in Tanzania here.

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