A group of 13 specialist doctors and three nurses from the United States are to offer free medical services to women suffering from obstetric fistula, a disease described as the most devastating of all childbirth complications affecting women.
The team, together with staff from the International Organization for Women and Development, Inc. (IOWD), which arrived in the country late Saturday, will stay for two weeks.
Dr. Christian Ntizimira of Kibagabaga Hospital, who received the doctors at Kigali International Airport, said on Sunday that the group’s presence is a big opportunity.
“Getting that team with fistula specialists is a big opportunity for those women to be treated,” he said. “They came on an invitation from the Ministry of Health which had seen the work they did in Niger. They will spend two weeks, from October 15 to 30. This program is done three times every year, in January, April and October.”
IOWD teams have worked at Kibagabaga Hospital before, providing surgical treatment to women with fistula and incontinence, another complication which is usually the inability to control one’s bowels (fecal incontinence) or the involuntary excretion of urine (urinary incontinence).
Obstetric fistula (or vaginal fistula) is a severe medical condition in which a hole (fistula) develops between either the rectum and vagina (rectovaginal fistula) or between the bladder and vagina (vesicovaginal fistula) after severe or failed childbirth, when adequate medical care is not available.
The two primary causes of fistula in women are childbirth, causing obstetric fistula, and sexual violence, causing traumatic fistula.
Dr. Ntizimira says obstetric fistula is a serious problem since it can affect the relationship between a husband and wife, as well as between a woman and her community, especially friends and relatives.
“Imagine a situation whereby the urine or stool passes by the vagina because there is a fissure and she cannot control it – it’s a very serious issue for women who suffer from it,” he added.
Dr. Ntizimira said the support from the US team is very important as the specialists will be sharing their experiences with [the few] Rwandan specialists, training young doctors and nurses and treating as many women as possible.
“The aim of this visit is to improve the quality of life for women with fistula by doing fistula surgical repair but they also touch other departments like pediatric surgery by bringing supplies which will help to treat patients.”
Women who suffer from the complication are often abandoned by their husbands and are isolated by their families and communities due the bad smell emanating from the infection.
The disease can be corrected and treated through surgery. However, ignorance of this fact usually results in many women suffering in silence.
Fistula in Rwanda is currently treated at three public hospitals: the Central University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK), Ruhengeri Hospital, in Northern Province and Kanombe Hospital in Kicukiro district.