Friday, May 13, 2016

A sixteen year old with an all too familiar story

By Ruth Musimbago, UVP Monitoring and Evaluation Officer and Global Health Corps Fellow

A few years back during my research studies in the village of Nabinyonyi in eastern Uganda, I made friends with one of my respondents, a sweet 16-year-old. Magarita had married at nine years old, gotten pregnant at 12, and developed an obstetric fistula after prolonged labour and her baby’s death. She was one of ten fistula patients at the medical centre where I spent a week to carry out research activities. At 16, Magarita was recovering from her fourth fistula surgery, and she lived in hope that she would heal. This was years before I started working with UVP, where I now hear stories of so many women and young girls with cases similar to that of Magarita. I am glad that we are reaching out to this kind of under-privileged population.

Fistula is a condition that affects hundreds of thousands of women, sadly 90% of them in Africa. Their stories, like that of Magarita, are ones that hardly get told. The tragedy of a fistula patient begins when she goes into labour. Try as she might, the baby won’t budge. Hours pass, days even, and her suffering continues. She is in a remote village with no midwife or access to medical attention. Added to her physical pain and suffering is the mental anguish of a lack of information about her situation. Most often in these situations, the baby dies, adding to her heartbreak. Then, her second tragedy begins. She can’t understand why she is leaking urine or faeces.

Her husband sends her home to her parents because of her condition. In some cases, her smell becomes so unbearable, even her parents put her out. She’s confined to a hut far from the house, sometimes having access to others only when food is passed to her.

Margarita was married exceptionally young, but child marriage is a problem in Uganda. One of the populations most vulnerable to fistulas are young brides. The impact of child marriage is devastating: these girls are robbed of their childhood, denied their rights to health, education, and security, and are trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty.

I am inspired to share this because I can now go beyond conducting research about such saddening incidences and instead be part of an organisation (UVP) that is reaching out to people suffering such conditions. The amazing UVP staff, especially Loy, go beyond bringing women for fistula repair surgery. I believe that simply repairing the fistula injuries and returning women to the same conditions that made them ill in the first place would be self-defeating. Loy has helped women with literacy while they are healing from their surgeries, and reminds the women of their rights.

I believe that the outreach activities are the first step in the campaign to end fistula. It may take many decades before we finally eradicate fistulas in Uganda or broadly in Africa. But we need to start somewhere and, hopefully, this great opportunity to be part of UVP, whose central passion is improving access to better health services, will pave the way.

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