ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Global health issues are overwhelming and complicated already, but they are more disquieting when a simple solution exists unaccompanied by anyone to fight the problem. Often in the face of problems, there exists the dangerous assumption that if it hasn’t been solved yet, the solution must be near impossible to etch out. Fistulas, a condition that affects thousands of women in impoverished countries, are easy to prevent and simple to repair. Fistula Foundation is one of those vital organizations that has recognized a simple solution and has worked hard to minimize unnecessary suffering.
A fistula is a hole that develops between the vagina and the bladder or rectum, a hole that can lead to the persistent and uncontrollable leakage of urine or feces through the vagina. The condition is caused during pregnancy when the infant’s head presses against the tissue so that it is cut off from the blood flow it needs for circulation.
In 90 percent of these obstetric fistulas, the child is stillborn. Beyond the tragedy of a failed pregnancy, the woman is then left to suffer chronic incontinence as well as the possibility of future failed pregnancies.
Determining the exact numbers of fistulas around the world is challenging because women suffering from a fistula are often ostracized because of their condition, especially when they live in a society where the culture deems childbearing the essential role of women. However, it is estimated that between one and two million fistula cases exist around the world, with the wide range of 6,000 to 100,000 new cases occurring every year.
A small, volunteer based organization, Fistula Foundation was established in 2000, initially geared toward supporting Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital located in Ethiopia. With the success of the initial initiative, the organization was able to expand its efforts to a more global scale. Since 2008, the foundation has worked to support fistula treatment in 28 countries at over 100 sites.
The organization is dedicated to transparency in all of its financial dealings, and a quick look at the annual reports over the years make it clear how speedily and efficiently the foundation expanded its impact.
Combating the effects of fistulas can occur at any stage of a pregnancy. Making sure conception doesn’t happen when a woman is too young is vital, along with performing cesarean sections to prevent damage. If a fistula does develop, it can be repaired surgically given that the necessary resources and health professionals are available. Fistula Foundation works to provide these necessities.
Kate Grant, the CEO at the foundation, explains, “Fistula’s really just a symptom of other things. It’s poverty, and it’s the way poverty tends to be even a more profound and destructive condition for women, and particularly women in labor.” This approach is tacit acknowledgement of the vicious cycle of health issues that women in impoverished countries are at risk of being trapped in forever.
Escaping poverty is normally the product of a healthy society, equipped with the capabilities to perpetuate stability and efficient institutions. And often, providing for a healthy society is only possible in a developed country with institutions and mechanisms necessary to care for people. That’s where organizations like Fistula Foundation come in, working to break a cycle that destroys lives.
– Maggie Wagner