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(Beatrice de Gea/The New York Times)

Devastating condition

Women with fistulas often stigmatized and left to suffer

By WITW Staff on March 21, 2016

Some one million women across the world suffer from fistulas, an internal injury most often caused by obstructed labor. It is a reversible condition, but, as the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof reports, many women with fistulas are stigmatized and left untreated.

A fistula is a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder, which occurs when prolonged labor contractions push a baby’s head against the mother’s pelvic bone. Since contraceptives and C-sections have become widely available, Western countries have all but eliminated occurrences of this condition. But in many parts of the world, and particularly among poor, rural women, fistulas are common. Because fistulas cause urine and feces to leak through the vagina, women who suffer from them are cast off due to their persistent stench.

In his Times article, Kristof relates the story of Marima, an Ethiopian teenager who married a fellow student while she was in high school. Marima had never heard of contraception, and soon became pregnant. She tried to deliver her baby at home, and spent days in labor. The baby died and Marima endured a fistula that caused her to constantly leak urine and feces. Her husband married another woman and she was left alone for months, covered in sores and ulcers due to her steady emission of waste. Finally, a family member took her to Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, a non-profit that treats women with fistulas. Doctors repaired the hole in Marima’s rectum, and are working on dealing with the hole in her bladder.

Fistulas can be devastating, but they are preventable. “The way to prevent fistulas is also the way to prevent maternal deaths,” Kristof writes. “Invest more in reproductive health care, including contraception and C-sections.”

Read the full story at the New York Times.