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Obstetric fistula

I have felt compelled to spread the word about obstetric fistula ever since I first heard of it a few years ago. How do you describe obstetric fistula? Horrifying, tragic, devastating - and most importantly, preventable. Entirely preventable.

But what is it exactly if you have not heard of it before? It is a medical condition caused by prolonged or obstructed labor in which a hole in the tissues between the vagina and either (or both) the bladder and rectum is formed. This causes incontinence involving either urine or feces.

It may seem like something you would rather not think about or acknowledge that it exists, as it might feel uncomfortable to talk about. But consider this: estimates are that 'between two million to 3.5 million women in the developing world currently suffer from the condition and between 50,000 to 130,000 new cases develop each year'.

If it feels uncomfortable for us to talk about - think about how it feels for the women who suffer from it. Many are very young, teenagers, forced to marry and have children while still too young. Many times their pelvis is not large enough to give birth easily, so they develop a fistula.

Then what? Many times their husbands and other family members ostracize them - kick them out, forcing them to live in a shack and beg for food. (When you don't have control over your bladder or feces and Depends aren't available - you tend to smell bad.) Not much of a life.

But in many cases, fistula can be repaired through surgery. If only all women suffering from it knew that or had access to hospitals many women could go on and have happy, productive lives once again.

But it could also be prevented by eliminating child marriages and if all women had access to prenatal care and a hospital to give birth in if they need it.

In the coming months we will be doing 'Spotlight Profiles' of non-profits around the world who are working with women and doctors to help end obstetric fistula. We will also try to interview some women who work for these organizations or volunteer for them. And provide information about how you can help these non-profits and the women they serve.

More information:

I highly advise you to watch 'A Walk to Beautiful' - 'A powerful story of healing and hope for women in Ethiopia devastated by childbirth injuries' originally aired on September 21, 2011 on PBS. You can watch the whole thing here: A Walk to Beautiful. Make sure you have plenty of kleenexes near by.

Some non-profits involved with the treatment and prevention of obstetric fistula:

Campaign to End Fistulas

The Fistula Care Project

The Fistula Foundation

Operation Obstetric Fistula      

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