Lobbyists raise alarm over fistula cases in West Pokot
Non-governmental organisations in West Pokot county have raised concern over the rising cases of obstetric fistula in the area.
They said the problem has been exacerbated by social stigma on the affected women, adding that the health burden of the condition is heavy because of poverty and called for concerted efforts by the government to address the problem.
“Obstetric fistula is a devastating childbirth injury caused by prolonged obstructed labour.
It can lead to incontinence and infection, social stigmatization as others recoil in horror, and even suffer mental illness,” said Komesi Women Network chairperson Susan Krop.
The disease emanates from an abnormal connection between the vagina and the bladder or the rectum resulting from obstetric causes, mainly prolonged obstructed labour.
Speaking to the People Daily in Kapenguria, Krop said at least one in a 1,000 women in the county suffer from obstetric fistula.
She asked gynaecologists and obstetricians to help women, who are already living with the problem in the area, by organising free medical camps, as they are being forced to travel long distances in search of treatment.
Krop cited that many fistula cases in the county are as a result of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early marriages and women failing to give birth in hospitals.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Health, 80 per cent of the cases are attributed to the female “cut”.
A paltry 24 per cent of the expectant mothers give birth in hospitals leading to high maternal mortality rate.
“Most of the women in pastoral areas are faced with many health challenges because of lack of health centres,” she said adding that the poor state of the roads has made it hard for women to reach health centres in time to give birth or even seek treatment.
Many health centres in the remote area, she noted, lack qualified health practitioners.
She urged women, who have been seeking assistance from traditional birth attendants during delivery, to go to hospital for delivery.
She hit out at those discriminating against women who have obstetric fistula, saying it is wrong to describe them as being “dirty”.
According to Krop, some survivors find it extremely difficult to take advantage of the social opportunities around them.
“The survivors’ marriages are jeopardised because they have to abstain from sex for six months to allow healing and two years before conceiving and secondly, because the husbands take the condition as a bad omen, they often abandon their wives and move to live with another wife or wives,” she said.
Irep Foundation director Domtillah Chesang said obstetric fistula has negative social implications to women in the entire West Pokot county causing moderate to severe disruption in marital, family and community relationships, affecting ability to work and religious practices. This she said leads to long-term psychological trauma.
“Long after corrective surgery, the women still live with memories of fistula and make every effort to block out any linkage to fistula,”she said.
West Pokot Governor John Lonyangapuo said his administration has been offering corrective surgery to those suffering from the condition through the Saving Mothers Programme and Beyond Zero Mobile Clinic.
The county chief said the government will continue offering fistula training for health care workers and community health workers in the county.
“We will do everything possible to ensure that all women deliver in hospitals to reduce the cases,” he said.