May 23 is the International Day to End World Obstetric Fistula, a condition many Nigerians are still oblivious of.
An Obstetric Fistula is a hole between the vagina and bladder that is caused by prolonged labour, leaving a woman leaking urine or faeces uncontrollably.
Nigeria has the highest prevalence of obstetric fistula in the world with about 150,000 women living with this condition and 12,000 new cases recorded every year.
Obstetric fistula most commonly occurs among women who live in low-resource countries and give birth without access to medical help. If a woman’s labour becomes obstructed, she could remain in excruciating pain for days before her baby is finally dislodged. Her baby likely dies and she is often left with an obstetric fistula, a small hole created by constant pressure from the foetus, which renders her incontinent. This leaves the woman leaking urine uncontrollably and in more serious cases she can leak faeces.
Other major causes of obstetric fistula include sex with minors, female genital mutilation and negligence by doctors during childbirth-related surgery.
In Nigeria, obstetric fistula has detrimental social, economic and religious implications on the women affected. Many of the women with VVF are ostracized from their society and have their marriages dissolved because the people around them cannot tolerate the odoriferous nature of the condition.
This condition is not only a physical aliment, many patients develop mental unrest and fall into depression, caused by the rejection of their societies towards them, leading them into hiding.
The Federal Government of Nigeria has taken the step of making obstetric fistula repair completely free in clinics scattered nationwide, with as many as over 2000 successful surgeries done in just Abakaliki, Ebonyi State.
Obstetric fistula can be prevented through expecting mothers attending regular antenatal care, zero practice of female genital mutilation, delivery with a skilled clinical personnel, zero practice of girl child marriage, and good nutrition for adolescent and pregnant women.
Countries in the Global North such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States were able to eradicate obstetric fistula through improving their healthcare system and cutting out detrimental traditions.
This means that Nigeria, by emulating those steps, can eradicate obstetric fistula and no woman has to go through it.8