Medical experts meet to address Obstetric Fistula

Leading experts and physicians working in the reproductive and maternal health field yesterday convened to identify challenges and solutions to Obstetric Fistula which is a pressing, but preventable health concern in Rwanda. The major aim of the two-day meeting was to engage policymakers, health officials and community leaders to set achievable goals for preventing the disease, consequently improving Rwandan women’s health.
Dr Agnes Binagwaho
Dr Agnes Binagwaho

Leading experts and physicians working in the reproductive and maternal health field yesterday convened to identify challenges and solutions to Obstetric Fistula which is a pressing, but preventable health concern in Rwanda.

The major aim of the two-day meeting was to engage policymakers, health officials and community leaders to set achievable goals for preventing the disease, consequently improving Rwandan women’s health.

Obstetric Fistula is an injury to a child at birth caused by prolonged labour without medical intervention or caesarean section.

It is an abnormal opening in the birth canal that results in chronic leakage of urine and faeces to the mothers.

Survivors of this health complication are quite often exposed to abandonment by husbands and social isolation from their families and communities due the bad smell that characterises its victims.

The fistula care project is managed by EngenderHealth a leading international reproductive health organization working to improve the quality of healthcare in the world’s poorest communities.

According to the director of Fistula Care Project, Karren Beattie, the disease is common among young women experiencing their first pregnancy.

“While women of all ages can have obstetric fistula, it is most common among young women experiencing their first pregnancy, particularly in regions where early marriages is the norm,” said Karren at the opening of the two-day meeting.

“A girl or woman who is not yet physically mature may have a pelvis that is too small for safe delivery; this can lead to obstructed or prolonged labour causing the fistula complication.”

While this disease can be corrected and treated through surgery, research shows that a lack of understanding of the condition and social stigma lead to women with fistula to frequently suffer in silence yet in up to 90 percent of fistula cases can be surgically repaired by a trained physician.

The exact figures of women suffering from fistula in Rwanda is unknown as the majority of fistula statistics are from health facilities yet an untold number of women suffering from the disease cannot or do not seek treatment for it.

Based on that one of Rwanda, and the number of deliveries per year, it is estimated that there is 3,000 – 4,000 new cases of the disease each year.

Speaking to The New Times, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, said that the meeting will design a roadmap on how to eradicate the disease in Rwanda.

“All these experts are going to help in designing a strategy which will help eradicate fistula in the country,” said Binagwaho.

Fistula in Rwanda is currently treated at a few hospitals, most notably CHUK, Kanombe Military Hospital, and Ruhengeri Hospital in Musanze district.

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