The idea of being injured by childbirth may not be familiar. Most know about the pain felt during, and maybe after giving birth. But you may not be aware what can happen if you are in labor and the baby will not come out. While c-section is available in Rwanda, it is not available in every village, and when it is available, it is often done by a junior doctor with limited experience. This lack of knowledge and experience can lead to serious surgical errors.
Sadly, childbirth injuries are common in places where there is no easy access to healthcare. Rwanda is one of many places in the world where a woman can be gravely injured during childbirth. These injuries can include the common things seen with vaginal birth like tears, bleeding, and infections, or can include more devastating injuries, like fistula.
Fistula is the term used the to describe a hole between two areas that should not be connected. Fistula can lead to leakage of urine or feces, which causes a terrible smell and makes it impossible to stay clean. There is an excellent video on fistula by PBS here.
Women with childbirth-related fistula may be shunned by their family or forced to move out. With no income and no family, life becomes an endless series of bad days. A fictionalized story of a girl who develops a fistula was made into a movie, called Dry, which is available for a small fee on iTunes and Amazon.com. You can read about the movie here.
Surgery to repair fistula is not simple; surgeons who do these procedures require specialized training, beyond that of even a well-trained gynecologist. Most African physicians do not have access to this training. The International Organization for Women and Development (IOWD) is working to bring trained surgeons to the area, both to operate on women in need and to train local surgeons. Until this surgery is more widely available, the IOWD will continue their work.