Background Information about our outreach
This is a request for funding to pay for life-changing operations for young women in Zimbabwe. The women we are helping suffer from obstetric fistulas: a serious complication following long obstructed labours which leaves the women incontinent and the baby stillborn. The operations either repair the fistula or restore continence through by installing a stoma.
Overview of the Problem
Obstetric fistulas occur when the baby gets stuck in the pelvis during labour and no expert medical care is available to ameliorate the situation by, for instance, carrying out a caesarean section. The membranes start to break down due to lack of blood flow exacerbated by a build up of urine and faecal matter. Holes form between the bladder and the vagina (vesico-vaginal fistula VVF) and between the rectum and the vagina (recto-vaginal fistula, RVF) leaving the young woman incontinent.
The trauma of losing her child (it’s normally her first) is compounded by severe social consequences, stigma, isolation and a common perception, especially in rural areas, that she is ‘cursed’.
Twenty years ago, obstetric fistulas were quite rare in Zimbabwe compared to the rest of Africa (particularly the Horn were, in Ethiopia for example, only 8% of births take place in a hospital) but recently, due to the long economic crisis and the consequent near collapse of the public health system, the numbers are rising. Other related factors contributing to the problem include malnutrition leading to pelvis underdevelopment and the growing popularity of Apostolic sects that eschew modern medicine and promote under-age marriage.
Because the incidence has been increasing at the same time as the public health system’s decline, no proper protocols are in place to care for these young women. With obstetric fistulas, it’s normal to wait at least three months to attempt a surgical repair, but what this means practically is that the operations never happen because the young women can’t afford to keep returning to hospital (they are usually sent home and told to come back a month later) and they don’t have any money to climb the queue.
Linda is a deeply traumatised young woman who suffered a VVF at a young age. Now 19 and still incontinent, she has braved numerous trips into Harare (she lives 300 miles away and can only use rags to absorb her urine as adult diapers are too expensive) only to be told to come back a month later. She has never given up though.
Diana is a 16 year old girl with both a VVF and RVF. She was just about to be taken home doubly incontinent because her family couldn’t afford the fees. The ward called us and we promised the funds.
We want to help Linda and Diana - get their operations and to do this we need donations.
What we want to do to help
We want to help these young women have their operations and get back on their feet. We have initially been trying to use the public hospitals but have found the inefficiency, bureaucracy and politics difficult to deal with and the endless delays are hard emotionally for the women. The extra expenses incurred, for example for five return trips from rural Zimbabwe to Harare and back, also mount up. Therefore we’ve decided to occasionally use private doctors - Although, these doctors usually waive their fees, the hosptals whose theatres we have to use charge a higher rate for private patients. At least we can be sure of the quality, expertise and timeliness of their treatment. We are also hoping to get these fees reduced. When possible we will stay in the public health system.
We want to organise two operations per month and then help the women in their rehabilitations. Some have been isolated for some time and have been unable to take any active part in life due to their incontinence and the stigma attached to their condition.
ANY DONATION OF ANY SIZE IS MORE THAN WELCOME - EVERY 5 OR TEN DOLLARS HELPS.
EVERY PENNY will go to these young women's operations and related expenses,
For more info you can write to Andrew Strang at [email protected] or call + 263 771 186 518.
My name is Andrew Strang and I work for the Whinfield Charitable Trust (Whinfield.org) in Harare. I’m a social worker pursuing a potential new career in medicine. The WCT subsidise the work of the Stomaltherapy Clinic in Highlands, Harare providing stoma bags (as well as wound dressings) for low-income patients. This outreach is separate from our normal budget.
This is our 2nd online outreach - the first, called' Dignity' raised 1600 usd which was originally earmarked for three operations - as it transpired the first two (Fungai's and Blessing's) got complicated and a lot of follow up was required. As it stands Fungai's has been a total succes and Blessing still needs another procedure. in the mean time, we've been able to help a few other young women using fund raised locally in Harare through games nights and scrabble tournaments.
We have also experienced the sad and awful side of post-labour trauma, as we became involved in in the case of despartely ill 16 year old girl with both vvf and rvf who had a late c-section whose suture line had got infected. She sadly died despite our best efforts in supporting her care.
Through thick and thin - We will continue helping as many young women as we can with peoples donations.