In the Democratic Republic of Congo, many women suffer complications during pregnancy and delivery, including obstetric fistula. Prolonged labor may result in a hole (“fistula”) between a woman’s birth canal and bladder or lower intestine, resulting in chronic leaking of urine or feces. This, in turn, leads to social isolation as the women can’t keep themselves clean, are ashamed of their condition, and withdraw from society. Many women and their families believe that this condition is due to a curse, leading to further separation from the community.
The USAID-funded Democratic Republic of Congo-Integrated Health Project (DRC-IHP), led by MSH, is supporting fistula repair in the health zone of Kaziba, in Sud Kivu province. The project facilitates transportation of women to the Kaziba General Reference Hospital, and provides the financial resources necessary to support their surgery and their basic needs for reintegration into their families and communities.
The project is also supporting the detection of fistula cases through local community health workers — mostly women — who identify those suffering with fistula and direct them to the facility for treatment.
Nehema Bubake is one woman who has been helped. At age 20, she gave birth to her second child, resulting in a fistula. ”I immediately thought that the midwives or nurses who had helped me to give birth had destroyed my life, it was like they threw a stigma on me,” Nehema says.
She lapsed into despair, sure that she would face a life of shame. But one day, through a community health worker, she learned that her situation was not a curse, but a treatable condition.
With DRC-IHP’s support, Nehema traveled to Kaziba from her rural village, a journey of 150 km (more than 90 miles), where skilled surgeons successfully repaired her fistula.
As she was leaving the hospital to return home, Nehema said, “I feel proud to return to my family healed and I thank the Kaziba Hospital for this intervention.”
“Women who are in this situation can still hope.”
Led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH), in partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Overseas Strategic Consulting (OSC), DRC-IHP is working to improve the basic health conditions of the Congolese people in 80 health zones in four provinces, including Sud Kivu.
Landry-Serges Malaba is the communications advisor for the DRC-Integrated Health Project. Malaba is based in Kinshasa.