There are some causes of illness and misery that demand advanced diagnostics, expensive medication and even cutting edge technology. There are many other tragic conditions that need information, and care that exists, if only people have the means to reach it and know that it can help them.
This is the case of obstetric fistula, a deplorable trauma brought on by mishandled birth, which leaves its sufferers incapacitated for the rest of their lives. What is fistula?
The conditions that lead to fistulae (or fistulas) can happen to any woman, anywhere, because they are an outcome of a problematic birth process. A famous historical case involved Princess Charlotte of England. As the only eligible heir to the throne, her birth was supposed to be a cause for celebration, but did not progress healthily (obstructed labour). The princess never had to suffer the burden of fistula because she died 50 hours into her labour, after giving birth to a stillborn child.
Today, fistula is still common in parts of Africa and Asia, where access to health care is sorely limited. It results from childbirth taking place without adequate medical or midwifery facilities, where experts cannot intervene and prevent trauma happening. Sufferers who survive the ordeal of obstructed labour, tend to be left untreated. Further, because they remain incontinent they are left believing that they are dirty and unacceptable instead of being informed that their condition is caused by a perinatal complication and it is completely curable.
Ethiopia has recently received special attention in regard to the issue of Obstetric Fistula, because their burning need for help to treat their estimated 9,000 new cases each year and tens of thousands of chronic cases, has begun getting attention from international supporters including Oprah and a fund set up by Virgin.
One particular hospital, set up by Australian physicians Catherine and Reginald Hamlin in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in the 1960′s, is doing a great deal to heal women with fistula in Ethiopia. The procedure costs about $450 but in a country where some woman cannot access medical care when giving birth, it is difficult to bring these women to the caretakers, even when money is raised to cover the procedure. This is what The Fistula Foundation is battling to do.
The real answer, however, lies not in curing all cases, but in providing the medical standards and education that will prevent the kind of births that result in fistulae.
The United Nations Population Fund started a global initiative in 2003 named the Campaign to End Fistula. The monies raised to cover fistula care in 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Mideast has been wholly insufficient. With local governments having neither the capability or the commitment to treat and prevent cases, the care is often left to NGOs.
We may be too far away to give help or support, but we can make a small contribution by donating to The Fistula Foundation and by spreading the word.