For four years, Nigerian mother Mariam Saraki has been unable to hold back urine after a complicated labor led to a vaginal fistula. Ashamed and isolated, it has cost her a husband and a community.
Saraki suffered the fistula, a hole between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum, after spending four days in labor at home trying to deliver her second child before being taken to hospital. She says she washes all the time but it doesn’t help.
“I do not stay in the midst of people because of the stigma associated with the smell,” she told Reuters. “A lot of women are suffering from this ailment, they just sit and leak.”
The condition is caused by prolonged labor without prompt medical intervention and it particularly affects girls married off at a young age in communities where access to modern medical care is difficult.
Caesarean deliveries helped to virtually eradicate fistula in the developed world but 2 million women, mostly in impoverished parts of Africa, still suffer, according to the World Health Organization.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) ran a two week campaign in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri last month to try and end fistula, with surgeons coming from France to help their Nigerian counterparts with the procedures.
Working with the Nigeria Fistula Foundation, they screened women and operated on 51 of the 154 patients who registered to be treated. Saraki was not selected for surgery.
She is left hoping she can receive treatment from one of the local doctors and nurses in Maiduguri who were trained by the visiting UNPFA team.
Community awareness campaigns and education sessions for men were also conducted by the UNPFA team, who are expected to return at a yet to be determined date as they look to cut the 150,000 cases of fistula in Nigeria.
Ruqqayah Abubakar, 19, has been suffering with a fistula for three years. She got married at 16 and had two still births due to prolonged labor.
Abubakar, who is still with her husband, was able to get treatment with the UNPF last month.
“By the special grace of Allah, it is his will that this sickness came and has also gone, and it is his will that it has gone permanently. I am grateful to Allah,” she said.