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Women get second chance to live life fully after victory over fistula

In the quiet town of Thika, Kiambu County, a beacon of hope shines brightly within the walls of Thika Level 5 Hospital.

This is where the lives of about 100 women, once overshadowed by the pain and stigma of obstetric fistula, are being transformed.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Kiambu County Government, Flying Doctors’ Society of Africa, and Amref Health Africa, the Mpesa Foundation organised a fistula camp.

Meet Mary Wakesho (not her real name) from Mombasa County, a resilient mother of three who endured the silent agony of fistula for 32 years. Her days were filled with physical discomfort and the emotional toll of societal rejection.

At 12.30 am in 1992, she delivered her firstborn son at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), but she was informed that there was a slight tear in her reproductive parts, which would be corrected later by the doctors.

Together with other women, they stayed on the bench until the following day at 2 pm only to be informed the doctors had gone home. They were advised to go home and come later. At home, she used warm water with salt as a Do It Yourself  (DIY) treatment.

Two years later while delivering her second-born at a private hospital, Wakesho was informed of her problem, which the doctors declined to correct. After delivery, the mother went home and again treated herself using warm salty water.

In 2022, she watched on TV a story of women who suffered her condition and got treated. She contacted Flying Doctors and was informed the problem would be corrected in the next fistula camp.

“Due to poverty, I was not able to attend camp in Bungoma and Makueni last year, but this year, a lady informed me about the camp at Thika level 5 hospital,” Wakesho said.

With mixed feelings of fear and optimism, she reported to the hospital on June 7, and the following day her problem of 32 years was rectified.

During an interview with The Standard five days later, Wakesho was full of joy as she prepared to board the bus back to her home in the coast. 

“I felt like I was given a second chance at life,” she said, her eyes glistening with hope.

Before boarding the waiting bus, the mother of two reflects on her journey and looks to the future with determination. “When I reach home, I will become an ambassador, encouraging many women who are suffering in silence to seek treatment,” she said of her new journey - that of spreading the message of hope and healing.

A vaginal fistula is an abnormal opening between the vagina and other nearby organs in the pelvis, including the bladder or rectum. A fistula can cause many complications, such as urinary and faecal leakage, abnormal vaginal discharge, tissue damage, kidney infections and other irritative-type symptoms.

Benedetta Nduku from Mavoloni, Yatta Machakos County developed a vesical vaginal fistula (a urine fistula) in 1986 when she was delivering her second baby. She laboured for five days, and when she finally delivered, her baby died.

She started leaking urine until her friend who heard of her condition informed her of Betty Kasyoka, a medical officer at Thika Level 5 hospital who could help her.

Later, she contacted Kasyoka but due to her smelly nature, Nduku could not board a matatu. She instead walked for two hours to Ngoliba Health Centre where she met Kasyoka before being screened diagnosed and booked for surgery in Thika.

And on June 9, doctors successfully performed the surgery and her problem of 38 years was solved. 

“I am passionate about helping women with fistula because I know that they suffer in silence, ostracised by their family members and the community and they also stigmatise themselves,” Nduku said.

Kasyoka who is also the coordinator of reproductive health in Kiambu county has been a champion for fistula awareness. “Fistula is treatable, and every woman must be checked two weeks after delivery,” she advises.

According to her, a majority of women are not able to perform even casual jobs due to their fistula condition and thus, they suffer in poverty. 

Linet Ombeka had travelled from Emuhaya in Vihiga County to get treated for fistula, a condition she developed last October.

The mother of two recounted the many times she would hide in her house crying, after trying all medications she thought would cure her problem.

“In 2022, I developed a lot of pain in my abdomen. I was later told it was fibroids prompting me to undergo surgery and my uterus was removed. When I came here for screening I was told my problem started then,” recounted Ombeka.

She was optimistic after the surgery that she will go back home a better person.

Speaking after visiting women who had undergone the surgery at the camp, Mpesa Foundation chairman Joe Ogutu said the organisation has invested Sh4 million as part of its Integrated Fistula Programme, which is set to run for two years.

“We are aware of the power of strategic partnerships to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and our fistula programme is a true testament to this. Across the country, we have impacted over 1,000 women living with fistula through treatment and free reconstructive surgeries since we kicked off this programme, and our commitment is to continue transforming the lives of more women through such camps,” explained Ogutu. 

According to Kiambu Health county executive committee (CEC) Elias Maina, the county has embarked on constructing hospitals to help women access medical services promptly and prevent cases of fistulas.

“Timely access to quality emergency obstetric care and the presence of trained health professionals with midwifery skills during childbirth is the most cost-effective way to reduce maternal mortality and morbidities such as fistula,” said Dr Maina.

Kenya’s Demographic Health Survey indicates that two in every 1,000 women have a fistula condition. The statistics further shows that this year alone, there will be 3,000 new cases of fistula.

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