Fistula survivors testify to rejection by partners

75% of women who have been treated for Fistula in South Sudan, have testified to being abandoned by their husbands and family members, according the focal person for UNFPA’s Fistula program.

Rafael Opkwoku –who is also the program analyst, said this is due to the wrong perception the communities have regarding Fistula, which is usually attributed to a curse for a wrong doing.

An obstetric fistula is a hole between the birth canal and rectum or bladder that is caused by prolonged obstructed labor, leaving a woman incontinent of urine or feces or both.

In an interview with Eye Radio, Mr Opkwoku said women with this condition suffer physical, emotional and economic distress:

“Divorce is very common, even sometimes their own parents don’t want to associate with these people and to make matters worse they don’t agree that fistula is caused by obstructed labor. They think it is a curse or punishment from God when you have done something wrong in the community.”

Mr Opkwoku said some women who used to work have lost their jobs and businesses due to social stigma, thus losing their sources of income.

“One of the women testified during the previous campaign that before this condition, she used to sell vegetables in the market. But after developing this condition, people don’t want to buy her vegetables,” he said.

He added that, some women have also suffered rejection and isolation from their own families.

Other risk factors causing Fistula in South Sudan include early and forced marriages, teenage pregnancy, poor health infrastructure and poverty.

It is estimated that over 60,000 women are living with obstetric fistula, of which less than 1000 have been reached with surgical repair and treatment.

Mr Opkwoku stated that from UNFPA’s interventions, Aweil has registered more cases of obstetric Fistula than other parts of the country, but the organization is yet to establish why:

“Based on our previous campaigns in Torit, Yambio, Juba, Wau, Aweil and currently in Bentiu, but from these experiences, cases from Aweil tend to be more because last year over 100 benefitted from fistula campaign.”

He said over 800 women have so far benefited from the annual fistula repair campaigns, and this year alone over 74 cases of fistula have been treated.

Currently, Mr Opkwoku said, UNFPA is running another obstetric Fistula campaign in Bentiu and so far 20 women have been repaired out of the 38 cases admitted.

He said counselling services is also being conducted to ensure smooth social integration back to the family and the community after the surgery.

“It is easier if the patients come with their husbands or close relatives because the patient needs six months after surgery to heal completely, but there are those who testified that right after surgery, their husbands force them into sex. Some women even testify that the only way to avoid this is to take refuge in their parent’s homes until they recover completely.”

Mr Opkwoku underscored the importance of family planning, ending child marriages and delivery in health facilities as instrumental in the prevention of obstetric Fistula.