Introspection on Obstetric Fistula

I’ve been on my feet for so long that they were beginning to hurt. It was noisy in my head as I thought long and hard about the movie I watched with my wife last night. I willed myself to ignore the pain but it was getting to my knees and one of us -my will or my knees- would have to throw in the towel soon enough. The details of what was happening to my feet was the impaired blood supply (and oxygenation) and drainage from my feet as they were compressed against the cold hard floor.

They called it ischaemia which would result in death/necrosis of the affected tissue if not resolved in due time. Same thing happens during a sprint by a newbie or to a bed-ridden person. My thoughts drifted to my neighbor who had a very bad stroke recently and needed frequent turning to prevent prolonged compression of a part of his body against the mattress, the impaired blood supply/oxygenation and the bedsores that could result from it.

My head was beginning to hurt from flashes of scenes from the movie Dry which was painful to watch but I shuffled my feet subconsciously, feeling warm as active circulation returned to my limbs. I remembered snippets of the conversation with my wife as she explained the whole concept of fistulas in her mummy-non-doctor-to-baby monotone. Despite myself, I chuckled as I recalled my 3-year old daughter nodding vigorously although clueless while her mother explained. She described fistula as the abnormal connection between two epithelial surfaces (of two organs). Like a solid block which becomes separated by any means and each covered by a tape, if put together for any length of time will always be separated by that thin layer of tape. My lips would never become an entity, neither should my toes…that sort of thing

Similar to my pain and the ischemia-necrosis jargon, my wife mentioned that when a baby’s head tries to pass through a narrow birth canal (pelvis) in a condition known as cephalopelvic disproportion, CPD. This could be due to the baby’s head being too big, or the pelvis being atypical or too narrow; all could arise from a variety of causes including a first time and very young woman’s labour experience resulting in the “failure of labour to progress”. CPD causes compression of the vaginal wall against the pelvic bones with intervening muscles of the rectum or bladder/urethra or anything else. Sometimes, a traditional birth attendant gives Gishiri” cuts bringing the baby out at all costs-even dead sometimes. The ischemia-necrosis sequelae ensues if this is prolonged without timely obstetric intervention. The dead tissue falls off after a while creating a new channel connecting two totally different epithelial surfaces as seen in vesicovaginal fistula(bladder-vagina); urethrovaginal fistula(urethra-vagina); rectovaginal fistula(rectum-vagina) amongst others. This allows uncontrolled leakage of urine or faeces through the affected orifices. This will never heal itself unless there’s a surgical intervention.

To think that sometimes fistula can be created deliberately is beyond me! I hear it is even a life- saving procedure in some instances. An ArterioVenous fistula connecting an artery and a vein would be created by a competent surgeon if someone needs hemodialysis; an enterocutaneous fistula done by exteriorizing the bowel could save someone with multiple bowel perforations. So technically, a fistula can be a monster or an angel depending on how you look at it.

It is all very complex and no woman should have to go through this trying to bring forth a new life.I shuffled my feet again as I got closer to my destination, reaching out for the Gala a road-side vendor was shoving in another uninterested passenger’s face, scurrying along as the bus decelerated. I handed him a #100 note and took another sip of water. Stretching and squinting as I got off the bus, I made a mental note not to ever stand in a BRT for such distance again. I do not need a “feet-o-shoe” fistula if that is even a thing.

Dry — is a 2014 Nigerian drama film directed by Stephanie Linus based on child marriage and VVF.

Gishiri — Gishiri or gishiri cutting is a form of female genital mutilation performed commonly by the peoples of the Hausa and Fulani regions of northern Nigeria and southern Nigeria

BRT — Bus Rapid Transport, a bus-based public transport system in Lagos, Nigeria.

CPD — cephalopelvic disproportion

Image Credit: Kristi Ramey


One of out of Many — The Story of MURJA (International Day to End Obstetric Fistula)

Our Journey in the terrain of putting an end to Obstetric Fistula has exposed us to various cases of fistula patients, ranging from a woman that has been experiencing VVF for over 30 years to that of a 16-year-old teenager that had gone through every humiliating process of being given out to early marriage, experienced Fistula and being subjected to inhumane acts from the society and people that were supposed to protect her.

Some recurring factors come up in all these cases;

– Detrimental/Archaic Cultural Practices and Values

– Gender Inequality

– Bad Health Care System

– Lack of Education, amidst others.

Back to the subject matter which leads us to the brief story of Murja, a 29-year-old lady who had undergone 7 childbirth deliveries, from which only 2 were delivered successfully.

The 7th delivery was the most devasting which eventually led to Obstetric Fistula. Just like many of the cases we have seen, the aftermath mostly leads to the isolation, stigma, fear, depression amidst others. It didn’t take long before she was evicted out of her matrimonial home with 2 children, prior to which the post fistula effect has gone severe with her health. By the time a help call was placed across to us at Bashir Fistula Foundation, she was already under critical health condition.

Let’s take a pause there, Things could have been different for Murja if she grew up in saner climes of being busy acquiring degrees or paving some career path for herself, with accessible quality healthcare and most importantly a society that values/prioritize the growth and development of women.

Today, The International Day to End Obstetric Fistula shouldn’t just be a day of Hashtags but a day we all, as a society reaffirm our stand towards ensuring an environment that provides a better life for every woman in all ramifications: professionally, politically, healthcare-wise, growth and development. A wake-up call to us all.

Note: With the help of our donors and supporters, Bashir Fistula Foundation was able to support Murja, benefited in a surgical intervention done in collaboration with our partner hospital and she has since been a survivor.