My name is Aleena and I am a Programme Officer for Amref in our London office. I’m sharing the experiences of some incredibly brave women I met on my recent trip to Tanzania - and asking for your support this Christmas.
My job is to work with our colleagues in East Africa to plan and deliver healthcare projects. I then visit our projects to learn from the communities we work with and to make sure that our projects really reflect their needs and realities. I recently visited Mwanza Region in northern Tanzania, on the shores of Lake Victoria, to meet with women who, with Amref’s support, are survivors of obstetric fistula.
Obstetric fistula is an abnormal opening between a woman’s vagina and her urinary tract or rectum, resulting in the leakage of urine, faeces, or both. This debilitating condition is caused by prolonged or obstructed labour and it is directly linked to a lack of access to high-quality healthcare.
We rarely hear about fistula in the UK because when trained, medical professionals are present when women give birth, fistula is both preventable and treatable. A woman’s right to health shouldn’t be dependent on the country she is born in: please donate today if you agree.
Fistula is a physically painful condition, but also takes a significant toll on women’s mental health. Women with fistula are often abandoned by their husbands, rejected by their families, and ostracised by their communities. “People did not sit next to me in church because they thought the disease could be transmitted from me to them,” I was told. It is incredibly difficult to imagine how it feels to be abandoned by those closest to you, when you need them the most. Especially at this time of year when we come together to celebrate as part of a family, or a community.
Many women with fistula don’t know what it is they are suffering from or that help is available. One woman I met had lived with fistula for 21 years because she felt too ashamed to talk to anyone, feelings that were compounded by the attitude of her family and community towards her. Tackling the stigma that surrounds the condition means addressing thorny, deep-rooted beliefs.
For Scholastica, and each and every woman that comes to us, we provide fistula repair surgery, psychosocial support, and entrepreneurship training, boosting survivors’ confidence and helping them gain financial independence. The women we work with are extremely brave: having survived physical and psychological trauma, they go on to work as ambassadors, seeking out other women with fistula and tackling stigma in their communities.
Scholastica explains: “I really want to learn more about how to challenge thinking: how to counter beliefs about witchcraft, for example. I want to inform people that these things can be medically corrected, and that the services are free and available. I want them to know that people can deal with these situations; that there is support out there: so many people who care about these women.”
Obstetric fistula is preventable, and it is treatable: but both prevention and treatment are impossible if the condition isn’t talked about. Please donate this Christmas to show that you too, care. Thank you.
Image (c) Sam Vox for Amref Health Africa UK.