Obstetric Fistula

Improving Obstetric Fistula Treatment

What is obstetric fistula?

Obstetric fistula is a hole connecting the vagina and the bladder that forms during prolonged or obstructed labor. With this condition, urine continually and uncontrollably leaks out of the vagina. The resultant odor causes social ostracism for the mother. Women who develop fistula are often forced to leave their home and are unable to support themselves because of the stigma that follows them. The only cure is surgery.

There are approximately 2 million women around the world living with fistula, with between 50,000 and 100,000 new cases every year. Current surgical capacity is only about 15,000 repairs annually. Of these, only about half are successful in making women dry enough to return to society and regain their livelihoods.

What do we do about it?

One of GIRHL’s objectives is to increase the effectiveness of the surgery, as well as access to and world capacity for fistula repair. GIRHL has addressed the first component through collaborative research with Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital (AAFH) to understand how and why repair surgeries fail.  AAFH is the largest facility in the world for fistula care, treating over 2500 patients annually. It also has an 80% surgical success rate. GIRHL is increasing capacity by bringing the outcomes of this research—and the techniques that create such a high success rate—to other high demand areas of Africa, such as Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, giving more women hope of returning to society.