Obstetric fistula: Living with incontinence, shame
Sir: I am 30-year-old Hauwa Muhammad Aminu, based in Bauchi. I have been a survivor of Vesicovaginal fistula (VVF) for four years. It happened when I was involved in an accident 26 years ago, which led to an injury in my bladder, which was repaired at that time.
Fast forward to 2019 when I gave birth to my second child, I started experiencing severe pain in my stomach, difficulty in sleeping and breathing. Several investigations were conducted, which showed bladder diverticulum, mild right side obstructive uropathy, stenosis, and many more.
I underwent a successful surgery, and a two-day post-operation while I was eating, I felt a sudden pain in the abdomen. Before the end of the day, I had started leaking urine pericatheter. I was taken back to the operating room for urethrocystoscopy, which stenosis and others were noticed.
Some 12 days’ post-operation, I started leaking urine again. Thereafter, an assessment of VVF was made, and I was placed under observation for six weeks. I cannot tell you the level of devastation I had, but I only hoped for healing or a miracle to happen.
I was later referred to the National Obstetric Fistula Centre (NOFIC), Ningi, Bauchi State, where I met other women with similar cases.
Being diagnosed with fistula was quite scary and depressing at the beginning, because I had to take pills to be able to sleep. That was despite all the support from my family, especially my husband, who has been very supportive and tolerant.
While it has affected my social relationships in terms of visitations or social gatherings, despite having to survive providing myself diapers, perfumes, clothing and detergents that will take away the foul smell, the development got me thinking about all the other women that are shunned or divorced by their husbands or community, and how they survive mentally, emotionally and financially, as one may undergo multiple surgeries and still come out unsuccessful. How do they cope, and who do they go to for help as 80 per cent of them are divorced? All we want is to feel among and be treated with kindness.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over two million women worldwide live with obstetric fistula, with the majority of such cases occurring in resource-poor countries like Nigeria. The afflicted tend to be both old and young primiparous mothers, who are too impoverished to interact with society as a result of our foul smell and inability to bear more children. This results in us being ostracised and shunned by our community.
Hauwa Muhammad Aminu wrote from Bauchi.
Most obstetric fistulas are surgically correctable, although surgical outcomes have been poorly studied as a patient may undergo so many surgeries and still be unsuccessful.
As we mark this year’s International Day to end Obstetric Fistula, it is worth noting that treatment is now free in Nigerian Fistula Centres. It is a huge relief, which people find much easier and less stressful, mentally and financially.
Though the free treatment brings relief to the VVF patients, it is sad that a woman with a fistula, who is perpetually leaking urine and sometimes faeces, is often rejected by her husband, divorced or shunned, and discriminated against by the people around her. This results in so much shame, worries, fear, and depression, but due to frequent visits to the hospital and interaction with other victims, they are relieved of their predicaments.
There is need for more interventions in so many ways, especially on how we should keep personal hygiene by providing us with perfumes, washing detergent, and diapers so as to move freely, as only four per cent of the population can afford them.
I urge the government, NGOs, and wealthy individuals to assist in enrolling us in schools, and providing us with jobs or capital to start businesses. This will enable us to cater for our daily needs. Apart from the financial impact, such a gesture will also keep us engaged, thereby making us feel relevant in the society. I celebrate all fistula mothers in Nigeria and all over the world. Happy International Day to end Obstetric Fistula.
Hauwa Muhammad Aminu wrote from Bauchi.