Recently, one of Kenyan YouTube vloggers came out to talk about her motherhood journey. She described how the hospital’s negligence robbed her off the joy of motherhood for a while because of the fecal incontinence she experienced. Unfortunately, this story resonates with several Kenyan women. Unlike her, a majority have stillbirths and take time to have reconstructive surgery done. It is this harrowing experience that takes out the bliss expected in motherhood.
Obstetric fistula is a term that some may not be familiar with but often happens to women in developing countries. It is a reproductive health problem characterized by a hole between the birth canal and bladder or rectum resulting in fecal or urine incontinence. WHO describes it as the single most devastating morbidity of neglected childbirth. Each year, at least 50,00-100,000 women worldwide are affected (WHO). In Kenya, six million women suffer from obstetric fistula (Amref Health Africa). This translates to two women getting this problem per 100 births (Amref). With such statistics recorded, much ought to be done to save our women.
An interplay of numerous factors like the physical, social-cultural, political, and economic nature of women results in a fistula. Prolonged and obstructed labour, accidental surgery, injury related to pregnancy, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early marriages, and illiteracy contribute to this reproductive health issue. Also, unavailable data which undermines the magnitude and severity of the problem harms policy formulation resulting in low awareness levels within the community.
The impact this condition has on women goes beyond child loss. Physically, urine and fecal matter leaks are vaginal infection and ulceration, and stinging thighs are unavoidable. Due to the foul smell exuded, she undergoes isolation, stigma, and divorce. This waters down a woman’s confidence. Ultimately, she fails to get on with her daily hustle. Lack of income and people to interact with leads to depression and suicidal tendencies.
The condition is treatable through surgical repair. However, some of the victims are unaware of this, and if they are in the loop about it, they cannot afford it. As a result, some women live with fistula for longer than ten years. The narrative is steadily changing as women are getting the much-needed help they need in the form of regaining continence and psychological counseling. The Beyond Zero Campaign initiated by Margaret Kenyatta in 2014, has helped create awareness about fistula and provided a platform for women to get free reconstructive surgery. Additionally, several NGOs have also teamed up with hospitals such as Kenyatta National Hospital to carry out the surgery at no cost.
Progress is evident. So we remain hopeful that fistula will no longer be a story for today’s woman. The government in conjunction with NGOs is up against FGM that is a culprit of this occurrence. Awareness creation is on the rise. Women who have survived this smelly ordeal have also joined in the fight to ensure their fellow women speak up and get assistance. To complement the efforts in place, we ought to embrace the women still suffering in silence as a community.
As we long for better and brighter days ahead, let’s make the environment better one woman at a time and restore the joy intended for motherhood.