Gimbie Adventist Hospital collaborates with surgeons to provide fistula surgeries Email | Print
Created date Apr 21, 2006   Last edit May 20, 2009 at 1:16 PM


Gimbie Adventist Hospital collaborates with surgeons to provide fistula surgeries

Gimbie Adventist Hospital (GAH) has collaborated with visiting surgeons on three occasions during the past year to provide surgery for women with obstetric fistula.

Happy couples who now lead normal lives thanks to surgery.
Two happy couples who have undergone fistula surgeries can now lead normal lives.

Beginning in January/February 2005, November 2005, and January/February 2006, the hospital, located in Gimbie, West Wollega, Ethiopia, partnered with several surgeons enabling women to have free treatment locally for this condition.

Staff at GAH partnered with visiting surgeons from Adventist Health International, Maternity Worldwide (a UK/Danish registered NGO) and the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital (Dr. Larry Johnson, Dr. Haile, Dr. Henrietta Nielsen, Dr. Shane Duffy, Dr. Ian Ferguson, Dr. Eric Simmons, Dr. Bjarke Sorensen, Dr. Martin Rudknicki).

Prior to the visit of each surgical team, GAH raised awareness of the project among residents of Gimbie and West Wollega Zone (population 2.3 million) by visiting government and non-government health facilities (both clinics and hospitals) to directly inform health professionals of the fistula project, and asking health professionals to contact any known fistula patients and advise them to attend GAH.

In addition, administrators at GAH also met with the Heads of Zonal and Woreda Administrative Councils and Health Departments and through them cascading information about the project to all health professionals, social workers and community leaders.

Administrators directly informed women and communities by incorporating education about fistula and information on the project into the community health education program being provided by GAH and Maternity Worldwide. Announcements about the service were even made on local radio.

"All three projects were a great success," says Ruth Lawson, administrator, Gimbie Adventist Hospital. "Women came for treatment from all across West Wollega (including Nejo, Boju, Haru, Arjo, and many other places). A total of 60 women were treated surgically at Gimbie Hospital and a further nine complicated cases were referred to AAFH for surgery. Some women had been leaking urine for over 17 years and are delighted to finally be cured of this terrible problem."

Dr. Larry Johnson poses for a picture with several fistula patients.
Dr. Larry Johnson poses for a picture with several fistula patients.

Obstetric fistula is a condition occurring when a 'false passage' is created between the vagina and the bladder and/or the vagina and the rectum. As a result women are unable to control their bladder and/or bowel function and are permanently incontinent of urine and/or feces. In addition to the physical discomfort of incontinence and the risk of infection and skin irritation, the psychological impact of fistula is profound. Women with fistula are often rejected by society and their husbands, to the extent that they may be unable to leave their homes and are commonly abandoned by their husbands.

Fistula is most often caused by obstructed labor, when the prolonged pressure of the fetal head causes damage to the tissues between the vagina and bladder and/or rectum allowing the tissue to break down and a hole to open up between the two.

Obstetric fistula is rare in developed countries since access to timely medical intervention prevents women being in labor for too long. However in rural Ethiopia, where access to medical care is severely lacking, obstetric fistula is all too common.

In the majority of cases fistula can be cured by surgery to repair the damaged tissue. A hospital was established in Addis Ababa approximately 25 years ago specifically for the treatment of women with fistula (The Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital). Funded by local and international donations, AAFH provides free treatment for women with fistula, and even reimburses the transport costs that women have paid to reach the hospital from their home village.

However, despite the availability of high quality treatment for fistula in Addis Ababa many women in Ethiopia, particularly those from rural areas, do not access medical treatment and continue to suffer both physically and psychologically from fistula. There are several reasons why women do not access this care. Firstly, women are unaware that fistula can be cured.

Secondly, even if women have heard of the AAFH they are unaware that treatment and transport costs are free. Thirdly, the difficulty of the journey from their home village (compounded by the stigma of using public transport for women with fistula), and the length of time required away from home for pre and post operative care limits women's ability to access medical treatment.

"The projects offered at Gimbie Adventist Hospital have helped to treat women with a socially stigmatizing medical problem who would not otherwise have been able to access care, thus improving their quality of lives and dignity," says Ms. Lawson.

"Additionally, the projects have helped Gimbie Adventist Hospital to engage more with the communities that we serve and helped to strengthen our relationship with local government and health departments," she adds.