NAIROBI, Kenya, May 24 – At least 3,000 obstetric fistula cases are reported annually in Kenya with many women said to be suffering in silence as a result of stigma and discrimination.
In Sub Saharan Africa, an estimated two million patients suffer from the stigma of obstetric fistula.
Prisca Nyariri was diagnosed with the condition after delivering her fourth child.
“My life changed after giving birth to my fourth child. There was no dry day for me, I leaked day and night,” Nyariri narrated her ordeal, “I sought medical attention at Kendu Bay where they were unable to treat my condition.”
Nyariri who hails from Nyamira County carried on with her life attending to her family and farm all the while avoiding going for and or being in public forums because by now, the society had gotten wind of her condition.
“I kept to myself because the times I mingled with people they would step away from me without hiding their disgust; this really pained me because I too was trying to wrap my mind around this condition that made me feel like an outcast, “she sadly said.
Everywhere I sat, I left a mark and people would come to see and talk so much about my condition. I was helpless and could not do anything about this.”
Like many fistula survivors, she felt embarrassed and alienated.
Nyariri went on to live with the condition for 30 years before finally getting the much needed treatment in a medical camp by Safaricom Foundation.
A light at the end of the tunnel came when Nyariri’s sister called her with good news that there is hope that will bring to an end her agonizing condition, by getting free medical treatment at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).
“After my sister’s phone call i left for her place in Kisii then eventually to Nairobi where the reconstructive surgery was carried out,” she said.
The 80 years old grandmother now enjoys life free from the embarrassing leakages, chronic pains and can walk properly thanks to a successful surgery.
“I am happy to see my relative happy and active,” said Prisca Nyamboke a relative to Nyariri, “for so long the condition tied her down to just doing minimal chores as well as less interaction with others.”
Survivors like Nyariri are now helping to spread the word that fistula treatment is available.
A stigmatizing injury caused by childbirth complications, fistula causes incontinence and can also lead to infections, chronic pain and other problems.
But not all cases are as a result of childbirth complications. Six years old Virginia Wanjiru was born with obstetric fistula which took her family two years to exactly identify what was ailing her.
“From the year 2013 and 2015 she was really in pain,” said Eunice Wanjiku, Wanjiru’s grandmother, “we noticed she uncontrollably passed urine, this prompted us to take her for an x-ray which revealed that she had a hole in her bladder.”
The journey to receiving adequate treatment for little Wanjiru was an uphill task for the family as there was minimal resources available.
“So much was needed from us, our only resources being our sales from chicken, eggs and some farm produce,” Wanjiku narrated.
It wasn’t also easy at first for Wanjiru when she joined school in 2015; as she kept away from her friends.
“I noticed how distant she was from her classmates, she kept to herself most of the time,” said her teacher Margaret Gituanja.
Steps to dealing with Wanjiru’s condition are quickly unfolding, said her grandmother as she is scheduled for her first surgery this Friday at the Kenyatta National Hospital thanks to a medical camp by Safaricom foundation.
Speaking Tuesday during the launch of an inaugural International Conference on Reproductive Health at the Kenyatta University whose theme is “Ending Obstetric Fistula in a Generation, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta noted that even though measures have been put in place to address obstetric fistulas in the world, the campaign is underfunded and needs more human and financial resources to achieve its goal.
“Although the campaign to end Fistula has enhanced the visibility and knowledge of obstetric Fistula worldwide, it is still under-resourced and requires far more financial and human resources to achieve its goal; more needs to be done to prevent labor and delivery complications,” said the first lady.
She said the government is committed towards improving maternal and new born health and end fistulas through the provision of free maternal health services.
“It is worth noting that improved access to education, gender equality and the will to end child marriages must be ensured to reduce marginalization of women and girls.”
Mrs Kenyatta also called upon individuals and corporate institutions to support the treatment of women affected by fistula.
“I applaud our health partners who continue to invest resources and research knowledge to help us fast track our joint efforts to address the urgent issues affecting the most vulnerable groups in society- women and children,” she said.
She observed that such assistance will enable Kenyatta National Hospital and other partners extend free services to women affected by the condition more so in the rural areas.
“I urge that we seek out more of our mothers who are hidden away while suffering from this condition and encourage them to seek help as they suffer numerous negative emotional and psychological effects due to humiliation from their smell, and inability to perform their family roles.”