By Elizabeth Namara
Every year Bwindi Community Hospital (BCH) holds a Fistula Camp to provide much-needed but rare services to women suffering from obsteric fistula. From October 29 to November 4, 2023, BCH held a fistula camp that was attended by many women who have long been suffering from obstetric fistula.
The surgeries were conducted by a team from Switzerland spearheaded by Dr. Verena Geissbuhler, together with the BCH team worked tirelessly to restore hope and dignity to these women.
The camp didn’t only cater to the Bwindi Catchment area, but, women from as far as Alebtong district were offered the free much needed, transforming reconstructive surgeries. The majority of the service recipients, 36 women in number, were from Alebtong District. In total, 65 women were able to access care from this camp.
They braced the long journeys, the unfamiliar terrain, and the careold unfamiliar weather that eventually paid for with hope and smiles. Women who experience obstetric fistula suffer constant incontinence, shame, social segregation, and other health problems.
59-year-old Mary Akello, 50-year-old Lucy Akello, and 43-year-old Joan Adongo are some of the women whose faces beamed with utmost joy for the miracle they experienced in Bwindi.
Adongo said, “We were informed of a hospital in Kanungu that could help us if we organized ourselves. Our Member of Parliament told us, we would get everything for free; accommodation, medical care, feeding, and transport.”
One common factor among these women is; that they gave birth to many children, with most of the children being born at home. One of the mothers delivered all her 11 children from home with the assistance of her mother-in-law. Another produced 4 from the hospital and 2 from home, the other produced her 5 children from home and 2 from the hospital.
“We didn’t know the benefits of giving birth from the hospital. We thought it was okay to give birth from home. Women in our village are giving birth from home.”
According to the World Health Organisation, It is estimated that more than 2 million young women live with untreated obstetric fistula in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Each year between 50, 000 to 100,000 women worldwide are affected by obstetric fistula, an abnormal opening between a woman’s genital tract and her urinary tract or rectum.
The development of obstetric fistula is directly linked to one of the major causes of maternal mortality: obstructed labor.
Complications that may be associated with obstetric fistula include; incontinence of urine and/or stool. The women with such complications may also experience other psychosocial complications such as; depression and anxiety, social isolation, inability to work, and stigmatisation.
According to WHO, most cases can be avoided by delaying the age of first pregnancy and by having timely access to obstetric care.
Having held the first camp in 2016, the fistula camp program has over the years grown and takes place every single year.
Mr. Moses Okwir, the Fistula Program coordinator for the Lango sub-region applauded the work being done by the Bwindi Community Hospital in making sure women with obstetric fistula and related challenges access specialized care and surgeries. “The patients are now feeling well. We thank God for the work you have done for our patients,” said Mr. Okwir. He added, “The women are lucky to have this hospital helping them.” Mr. Okwir goes to the villages in Lango to mobilize the women for the camp as well as sensitize them about fistula.
The 2016 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey found that 1.4% of Ugandan women report having ever experienced fistula-like symptoms.
Joan, Lucy, and Mary, the recipients of the program advise pregnant mothers to desist from giving birth from their homes, since it can bring many challenges. “I advise women to go the health centers early enough because these issues are tough,” emphasized Daila Achola, a nurse working with the Lango Fistula Program.