This week’s $5 is being given in honor of my friend, Ayumi (pronounced eye-you-me for those of you who don’t speak Japanese). Ayumi is studying to be a midwife and is passionate about maternal health and the issue of obstetric fistula. Have you heard of obstetric fistula? I hadn’t until about a year ago, because it’s something that’s virtually never happens in the developed world. If an obstetric fistula develops, women in the developing world undergo a simple operation to correct it. In the third world, something entirely different happens.
“A fistula develops when the blood supply to the tissues of the vagina and bladder (and/or rectum) is cut off during prolonged, obstructed labour leaving a hole through which urine and/or feces pass uncontrollably.” So basically, obstetric fistula causes a woman to leak urine and feces continuously and uncontrollably. The women then become outcasts, often pushed to a hut on the edge of the village. Their husbands divorce them; their friends abandon them. Many of them believe that lying still will allow the wound to heal, so they do nothing but lie down for weeks and months at a time until their muscles begin to atrophy. It’s a miserable existence, all because they have no access to a fairly simple operation.
While fistulas can happen anywhere in the world, there is a high incidence of occurence in Africa. This is because female genital mutilation or cutting is common there. Female genital mutilation causes scar tissue, which in turn causes problems during labor. Many women in rural Africa have no access to a midwife, no hospital nearby and no option for a c-section. They give birth with a traditional birth attendant, usually an older woman who has no professional training in labor and delivery. The traditional birth attendants do the best they can, but they are not equipped to deal with difficult and prolonged labors.
Maybe the worst part of this is that these women’s babies die during labor. They lose their babies, their status and any chance at a normal life, UNLESS they can get an operation to fix the fistula.
That’s where the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital comes in. The Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital is located in the capitol of Ethiopia and is the only hospital in the world dedicated to women suffering with obstetric fistula. It was founded by Drs. Reginald and Catherine Hamlin in 1974 to address the incredible need. Reginald passed away in 1993 and Catherine continues to work in the hospital. All services at the hospital are completely FREE and the hospital is completely dependant on donations.
That’s a great use of my $5. Vente Caramel Latte, anyone? No thanks, I’m sending a little chunk of change to Ethiopia.