What is Fistula?

Hamlin Fistula Hospital, Bahir Dar

Imagine a world with little to no prenatal care. Where the nearest health facility is a two-day walk away. Where only one percent of women give birth under the care of a skilled attendant. Where the lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy or childbirth is one in 16.

This is the world in which millions of Ethiopian women live – a world where childbirth injuries such as fistula are far too common.

Obstetric fistula occurs after prolonged and agonizing obstructed labor, during which pressure from the fetus forms a hole between the vagina and the bladder or rectum. The World Health Organization has called it “the single most dramatic aftermath of neglected childbirth.”

Often, the babies are stillborn. The women are left with a terrible, chronic medical condition in which urine or feces leak uncontrollably. Sometimes, they suffer nerve damage and can even lose the ability to walk. They are often abandoned by their husbands, rejected by their communities, and left to live in isolation. The United Nations estimates more than two million women worldwide live with fistula, with 100,000 new cases each year.

Yet it is both preventable and treatable.

Hamlin Fistula USA is working to do just that by supporting Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia (HFE). HFE runs a world-renowned network of hospitals that treat women with fistula with cutting-edge, compassionate care, as well as a college for midwives who are helping to prevent fistula and other childbirth injuries.

We do this vital work because we believe in a world in which all women have access to quality maternal care, and where the scars of childbirth injuries are a thing of the past.

If you’re interested in learning more about obstetric fistula in the U.S., please download this information.