The Ministry of Health on Tuesday launched a six-month campaign against fistula. The launch took place in Gatsibo District in Eastern Province.
Ambroise Ruboneza, the Mayor of Gatsibo, urged residents to take the lead in the fight against obstetric fistula.
He called for concerted efforts in the face of stigma against the disease sufferers.
The campaign will be conducted in four districts of Gatsibo, Nyagatare, Kayonza and Rwamagana.
Ruboneza also said it was necessary for all residents to subscribe to community-based health insurance so as to help fight the disease.
“No one should sell their property in exchange for health care and this can only be possible if one subscribes to health insurance,” he said.
He said fistula does not only inconvenience the victims but also strains national resources since a lot of money has to be spent on treatment.
He also challenged community health workers to ensure quality service delivery.
“You should be reminded that offering poor or delayed medical care is unethical,” he said.
The mayor warned residents against stigmatising fistula sufferers.
“Victims should not be shunned. Opening up is crucial since this is a genuine threat to your lives,” he said.
Samuel Gashema, the head of Monitoring and Evaluation, Maternal and Child Health department at the Health ministry, said the campaign aims at eliminating misconceptions about the disease.
“It is hard to establish the exact number of people suffering from this ailment because most victims live in self-denial. But all we know is over 3,000 people have been treated since 2005 country wide,” he said.
He added that despite the challenges, significant progress had been registered.
“Out of the 42 public hospitals in Rwanda, at least 10 of them can offer fistula treatment with two specialists in each,” Gashema said.
The campaign is aimed at raising public awareness about fistula through community health workers, media outlets, drama and music shows.
“Out of 1,000 mothers, two to three are fistula victims, so this is why this ailment should be taken seriously,” Gashema said.
He advised residents to watch out for the symptoms of the disease so as to seek timely medication.
The symptoms include uncontrolled passing of urine, sometimes combined with stool, coupled with emission of a pungent smell from one’s body. Under age pregnancies make one susceptible to the disease, according to medics.
Aimable Mwananawe, the national coordinator of Ihorere Munyarwanda, a local advocacy involved with public healthcare, said over 540 community health workers have been trained to help in the exercise.
The campaign targets over 13,500 households.
Mwananawe said the choice of the Eastern Province was informed by the fact that it had a higher prevalence rate of the ailment.
Residents speak out
Mwamina Mukagasana, former victim of fistula resident in Rugarama sector in Gatsibo said she had lost self esteem because of the humiliating symptoms.
“I am very thankful that the government brought this campaign closer to the people. At least I am confident that they won’t have to go through what I went through.”
Esperance Uwimana, a pregnant mother and resident of Kiramuruzi Sector, said that the campaign revealed to her the importance of having birth from health facilities.
“I had the birth of my first child from home, but now that I know this could expose me to fistula, I won’t do it again.”