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Western-Eradicated Fistula Still Plaguing Zimbabwe Women

Some of the beneficiaries of the obstetric fistula operations seen at Chinhoyi Hospital. (Photo: Arthur Chigoriwa)

Close to 200 Zimbabwean women underwent life-changing operations in the last one year, to correct a condition known as obstetric fistula, caused by prolonged labor which forces the unborn baby's head against a woman's pelvis.

The condition can kill the baby and destroy the trapped tissue in the birth canal, the rectum and the urinary tract. The resulting hole causes urinal or faecal incontinence.

The condition can be deadly to the expectant mother as well, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which estimates that at least eight women and girls die every day in Zimbabwe from these complications, while another 20 to 50 suffer severe complications like fistula.

One hospital that has been in the forefront of providing this corrective, life-changing operation at no cost to the patient is Chinhoyi Hospital, in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland West Province, in partnership with donor organizations. The hospital, which has an ongoing campaign to end the condition, is the first center in the country to offer the service for free.

Zimbabwe coordinator Priscilla Mabhande for Women and Health Alliance, explained that obstetric fistula afflicts mostly women having multiple births or young girls who marry early and bear children before their bodies have fully developed to naturally deliver babies. Nearly a third of girls in Zimbabwe marry before they are 18 and 4% before they turn 15.

"The women that we have been helping have been a mix of the child bride the 14-year-old who falls pregnant and gives birth either at home or at a medical institution,” said Mabhande. “Multiple births from the older women has also been our clientele range.”

About 400 women are in line to get the corrective surgery.

Zimbabwe Offers Free Operations To End Fistula
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Among them is Tendai Chimusasa whose baby died after getting stuck in the birth canal when she went into prolonged labor three years ago with her first pregnancy. Chimusasa, who said she was in labor for three days before being rushed to the hospital, explained how she’s been coping with her condition.

"I buy towels and I insert them in my private parts so that I can avoid messing my clothes especially when I am going to church. From time to time I excuse myself to go to the toilet so I can change the towels.”

Chimusasa said her condition has forced her to extremely hygienic.

“This condition requires a lots of sprays, perfumes, powders and I have to bathe regularly because at any given time I can just pass urine uncontrollably," said Chimusasa.

About 70% of women living with fistula reportedly never seek treatment because they don't know what is wrong with them.

Priscilla Mabhande of Women and Health Alliance said lack of adequate food has gravely affected women who’ve undergone fistula operations.

Zimbabwe is among the countries in Southern Africa hard hit by drought, brought about by El Nino, a warming of sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. More than four-million Zimbabweans, mostly in rural areas, need food aid.

“At present we have also faced challenges with malnourishment basing pretty much on the prevailing conditions in the rural areas," Mabhande said.

The World Food Program is now supporting the campaign to end fistula by feeding the patients to improve their nutrition and speed up recovery

Fistula has remained a problem in developing countries due to poverty, lack of education and child marriages. However, the condition was virtually eradicated in developed countries in the 19th century, following the discovery of Cesarean section. (Reuters)