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RESTORING DIGNITY

Makueni women benefit from free fistula surgery

Condition leads to stigma and depression

In Summary

• Mueni resigned to her fate and withdrew from social activities

• More than 50 new fistula cases are reported in the country per month,

A past free fistula surgery camp at Kenyatta National Hospital
CAMPAIGN: A past free fistula surgery camp at Kenyatta National Hospital
Image: FILE

For the last 40 years, Elizabeth Mueni, 77, has suffered the indignity of obstetric fistula in silence.

It is a medical condition in which a hole develops in the birth canal as a result of difficult childbirth.

The mother of 10 developed the problem after giving birth to her last born in 1979.

The condition has taken a toll on Mueni's health and social life.

Unlike many fistula victims who delivered at home and suffered obstructed or prolonged labour, Mueni’s baby was born in hospital through a caesarean section.

‘‘When I went home, I developed incontinence but I figured that since the doctors  had given me a clean bill of health after the delivery, it was a normal occurrence that would ultimately disappear. So, I kept it to myself,” she says.

However, the condition deteriorated over the years and she eventually mustered the courage and confided in one of her daughters.

“I was suffering alone. I could no longer hold urine or stool. I stopped visiting the toilet because there was no need. I couldn’t get there on time,” narrates Mueni.

Together with her daughter, Mueni sought treatment in various health facilities but the drugs she was given did not improve her condition.

‘‘Despite explaining to the health workers what I was going through they only prescribed drugs which did not help,” she says.

Mueni resigned to her fate and withdrew from social activities due to the shame and stigma attached to fistula.

When she heard on radio that Safaricom in partnership with the Flying Doctors Society of Africa would be conducting reconstructive surgeries for women with her condition at the Makueni County Referral Hospital, Mueni accompanied by daughter travelled from her rural home in Kalawa, Mbooni subcounty for the treatment.

When we caught up with her on Monday, the 77- year- old was upbeat ahead of the surgery.

“I can’t wait to go back to my normal life. It has been a long journey of anguish and shame,” she says.

Next to her bed is 32- year- Caro Mwende, also suffering from fistula. Mwende developed the condition when she was giving birth to her third child five years ago.

“I laboured for two days at home and by the time I travelled to the nearest health facility more than 30km away, I was in pain,” she explains.

Although she eventually delivered a healthy baby, Mwende suffered injuries that affected her excretory system.

“The leaks were embarrassing. I hated myself, my children and even stopped mingling with others.”

Due to the stigma, Mwende contemplated suicide but thanks to her supportive husband she managed to pull through.

‘‘My husband has been very supportive but I also maintain cleanliness to ward off the bad smell,’’ she says.

Mwende and Mueni are among 50 women who will benefit from the free weeklong fistula surgery camp running from March 29 to April 6.

Dr. Doris Nthenya, a gynaecologist and the medical superintendent at the Makueni Mother and Child Hospital, fistula is a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder that is caused by prolonged obstructed labour, leaving a woman incontinent.

She says the condition can be prevented by creating awareness on the need for women to deliver in hospital with the help of skilled health workers.

“There is also a need to equip health workers with proper training for them to identify labour that has not progressed well or any other complications that could lead to fistula,” she adds.

Nthenya says stigma associated with the condition make women shy away from seeking treatment and end up suffering in silence.

“More than 50 new fistula cases are reported in the country per month, and more shy away leading to low self- esteem and depression,” she says.

Illa  Devani, a council member at the Flying Doctors Society of Africa, says the camp seeks to restore dignity to the women with fistula and give them a new lease of life.

“Each surgery will cost us between Sh 60,000 to Sh 75,000 which will be funded by us in partnership with Safaricom,” says Devani.

She he organisation targets to conduct 1,100 surgeries this year across the country. “We normally target 1,000 annually but this year we are planning to go slightly over,” she says.

“We are committed to ensuring that our women with fistula get treatment and have their dignity is restored,” Safaricom Foundation’s assistant programmes analyst, Antony Otieno says.