Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Team Effort for a New Life Free from Fistula

Written by: Leslie Stroud-Romero, UVP Executive Director

The first fistula camp of 2014 started in mid-January. I got the chance to visit Kamuli Mission Hospital and meet some of the women who were there for surgery, as well as one of the surgeons from the UK Childbirth Injuries Fund. It was a long and tiring trip to get to the hospital. Uganda Village Project (UVP) identifies women from all over Uganda’s eastern region to take for surgeries, and without these efforts, the women would never be able to make it to the hospital. 

I asked Loy, UVP’s fistula coordinator, how long most of the women who were there had been suffering with fistula before coming for surgery. “Some just a short time, but more often 20, 30, or more years,” she said, confirming what I’d suspected when visiting the women, many of whom looked middle-aged. I followed up by asking whether they hadn’t come for surgery earlier because they didn’t know it’s curable. “Sometimes,” said Loy, “but most don’t come because they don’t have the funds for transport.” 

There are very few facilities capable of handling fistula surgeries, and so women must travel several hours to be helped. They live each day leaking urine or feces because they lack the small amount that it would take to get them to the hospital, and can’t afford to bring food or necessities with them to the hospital. That’s where UVP and the UK Childbirth Injuries Fund step in. We identify women in very rural villages who suffer with fistula, cover their transport for the long, dusty ride to the hospital, and then provide a food allowance while they are there. Loy looks after them—her caring nature was evident in the way she spoke with the women and they came to her with problems—and then volunteer surgeons from the UK work in partnership with Ugandan staff to heal women through surgery. Each surgery takes just an hour or two: such a short time after years of dealing with the results of a fistula. 

The surgeon I met, Dr. Glyn Constantine, was a friendly guy who had just a short time to talk between patients. Without his support, and that of his colleagues, we wouldn’t be able to provide these surgeries to women. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and during my visit to the hospital I saw that it takes a community to support a woman in need. From the Fistula Foundation that has helped us extend our outreach efforts, to our donors who provide the much-needed funds to transport the patients, our staff who care so deeply about these women, the Ugandan hospital staff at Kamuli who assist in surgery and healing, and the dedicated UK doctors who use their skills to heal—they all came together this month to help 17 women head home in two weeks with the opportunity to start a new life free from fistula. 

Edited by: Tiffany Hsieh

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