Recognizing Obstetric Fistula So We Can Eliminate It Once and For All

Can you imagine a pregnant woman you know going into labor, experiencing an unexpected obstruction and having no medical personnel to help?  If she survived, she would, no doubt, have internal tearing that would leave her leaking urine and waste. It’s called obstetric fistula.

Luckily for women in the U.S. and other developed countries, obstetric fistula was eliminated at the end of the 19th century. But in developing countries, particularly in Africa, it is an everyday occurrence affecting more than two million women who live with obstetric fistula. Fistula persists where women lack access to medical care and where malnutrition rates are high; poor nutrition leads to complications in childbirth.

Can we eliminate fistula? Many think we can. The United Nations has designated May 23 as the first-ever International Day to End Obstetric Fistula. This follows a decade-long campaign within the organization that has made real progress on ending the condition.

The Campaign to End Fistula united more than 80 global organizations, including The Fistula Foundation, Worldwide Fistula Fund, and Family Care International — all Aid for Africa members — to prevent, treat and rehabilitate many thousands of fistula survivors throughout the world.

The Fistula Foundation provides fistula care in almost 20 countries, half in Africa. It supports innovative approaches to that care, like a fleet of all-terrain ambulance vehicles that can transport patients in rural areas with no paved roads to hospitals for treatment. It uses traditional African teaching methods to reintegrate women who have received fistula treatment back into their communities in partnership with Aid for Africa member Tostan.

In 2012, the Worldwide Fistula Fund, which works in five African countries, opened a state-of-the-art fistula treatment center in rural Niger, West Africa, which serves the region. The goal: cure 2,500 women of fistula in five years. The facility provides prevention and rehabilitation programs to help victims become economically independent.

As the first international organization committed to maternal health, Family Care International has been improving the quality of maternal care in hundreds of rural health centers in Africa by educating and motivating village chiefs and religious leaders to support fistula care.

Let’s hope that the first International Day to End Obstetric Fistula will lose its designation in the not-too-distant future.


Aid for Africa is an alliance of 85 U.S.-based nonprofits and their African partners who help children, families, and communities throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Aid for Africa’s grassroots programs focus on health, education, economic development, arts & culture, conservation, and wildlife protection in Africa.

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Photo: Fistula surgery patient in West Africa. Credit: Worldwide Fistula Fund.


Val M.
Val M4 years ago


Sheila D.
GGmaSheila D4 years ago

It is sad that 13 years into the 21st Century there are still women being mutilated and dying in 3rd world countries. I can only hope that sooner, rather than, later they all will have access to good medical care.

Elizabeth Koenig
Elizabeth Koenig4 years ago

While obstetric fistulas do occur everywhere--they are caught early in places with good medical care like the West--the reason they are such a big issue in some places like Africa is due to two factors--child marriage, where the girl is too young to safely give birth to a child; and the related cause of female genital mutilation (FGM)--while all FGM is terrible, the most severe form, infbulation, involves sewing shut the vagina, which makes giving birth terribly difficult and increases the chance of rupture into the rectum.

Not only is the death toll from fistulas terribly high, but often women who survive fistulas without receiving medical care become incontinent and are abandoned by their husbands.

There are a few fistula hospitals in Africa run by Western charities, but not nearly enough.

If the practice of child marriage and infibulation were ended, fistulas would become rare even in places where women have little access to proper medical care.

Connie O.
Connie O4 years ago

thank you for the article...

pam w.
pam w4 years ago

SUCH a terrible condition....and SO easily repaired! Well, if there's a WILL to do it, of course!And there's the problem....

Christine Stewart

This condition is another good reason to object to girls forcibly married too young. When young girls are married, and of course have no access to birth control or prenatal care, if there is a problem during delivery because of the still-too small pelvis, an obstetric fistula can form. The young woman will likely get dumped by her husband and ostracized by her neighbors. Although a full grown woman can also experience problems during delivery, at least the diameter of the birth canal will be more optimal.

Mulatwa M.
Mulatwa M.4 years ago

In my country many women and young girls are suffering from Obsteric Fistulla. There's a centre which is helping the one who run away and come to the centre to get the help. The girls and women are in remote area and the centre is in the capital. There is a lot to be done. I also wrote a book about those women and young girls.
'I Won't Let Her Die." but looking for a sponsor to publish it.
The whole world should read it and must know what's going on here.

Anne Woods
Anne Woods4 years ago

I hope no more women have to suffer

W J.
Wendy J4 years ago

Thank you for sharing. I hope that one day soon...all women have equal rights and proper health care throughout our world.

B A Robinson
BA R4 years ago

goog to know