May 23rd is International Day to End Obstetric Fistula. Obstetric fistula is a devastating childbirth injury caused by prolonged, obstructed labor without access to timely, high-quality medical care. In 90% of cases, the baby doesn’t survive the traumatic delivery.
With the support of incredible donors and partners like Fistula Foundation, Johnson & Johnson and Direct Relief, we work with our local partner organization CCBRT to prevent and treat fistula in Tanzania. Since 2003, CCBRT has provided more than 5,200 fistula repair surgeries to women and girls at its hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Today, in honor of International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, we’d like you to meet Jovitha, who recently received comprehensive fistula treatment at CCBRT.
40-year-old Jovitha works as an entrepreneur. She lives in Arusha with her husband and their three children.
The deliveries of her first three children were normal, which is why she was surprised and confused when she experienced a long and complicated labor with her fourth child in December 2018.
Jovitha was in labor for three days. Doctors at her local hospital chose to not perform a Caesarean section due to her track record of routine births. Her condition continually worsened, until she couldn’t push any longer, and her legs felt cold. Finally, she was taken to the operating theatre for an emergency C-section, but Jovitha’s baby didn’t survive the night.
Two weeks after being discharged from the hospital following her traumatic experience, Jovitha realized she felt wet. “Urine was coming out uncontrolled,” she remembered. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I saw the whole bed, wet with urine, and I didn’t feel anything. I knew there was a big problem.”
While many women don’t know where to turn when they develop fistula – or even know what fistula is – Jovitha’s older sister quickly recognized Jovitha’s symptoms as likely indicators that she had developed fistula during her difficult labor.
Each year, as many as 3,000 Tanzanian women develop obstetric fistula, a childbirth injury caused by prolonged, obstructed labor. As many of these women have experienced, pressure from her baby’s head had obstructed blood flow in Jovitha’s birth canal, causing tissue to die. This formed a hole between her birth canal and bladder, leaving her incontinent.
“My experience – it’s unexplainable,” recounted Jovitha. “I hated myself for three months. I had urine flowing down my legs and I was extremely embarrassed. But I thank my family, especially my daughter. She was always there for me, washing and bathing me. Thankfully I had that support that so many other women don’t feel from their families and communities.”
With her daughter’s help, Jovitha researched fistula treatments on the internet – and found Kupona’s partner CCBRT.
“We took the contact information on the website and phoned CCBRT,” Jovitha recalled. “They responded warmly, giving me hope that I would be treated and healed.”
In March 2019, Jovitha received a bus ticket to travel to CCBRT from a local CCBRT fistula ambassador, completely free of charge. CCBRT uses M-PESA, a mobile money transfer system, to send funds for patients’ transport costs via a network of trained ambassadors.
Today, Jovitha is recovering from a successful fistula repair surgery at CCBRT.
While she recovers, she is also participating in CCBRT’s holistic care program, which teaches women and girls receiving fistula treatment at CCBRT about their condition, good nutrition, pelvic floor muscle exercises, sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, family planning options and other life skills.
CCBRT’s holistic care program focuses on treating the entire woman rather than simply repairing the physical condition alone – improving patients’ health outcomes and economic well-being after surgery. The most exciting part for Jovitha is the ability to become a fistula ambassador after she goes home, where she plans to help other women living with fistula in her area access treatment.
“We live in town, but knowledge of fistula hasn’t reached many people,” Jovitha shared. “I’m excited to go home and see my family, but also to spread the news that CCBRT treats fistula for free, so that I can help other women.”
Want to help us eradicate fistula in Tanzania? Use the hashtag #EndFistula in your social media posts to help us raise awareness about this relatively unknown condition. Or, make a donation in honor of a strong woman or mother in your life. By giving Tanzanian maternal health workers the training and resources to both prevent and surgically treat fistula, your gift gives women like Jovitha the foundation for a better life.