Whilst motherhood is often a positive and fulfilling experience, for many women and girls in practising countries in Africa, it is linked to suffering, ill-health and even death. This especially affects women and girls living in rural areas and poor communities with limited access to healthcare.
The direct causes of severe maternal injury, or death include: haemorrhaging, infections, high blood pressure, unsafe abortions and obstructed labour (WHO, 2016). These risk factors increase in child pregnancies; especially when certain types of FGM have been performed and when access to health clinics is limited. As a result, childbirth takes place in unsafe and unsupported environments – which increases the risks to the mother and child.
Preserving women and girls’ health and dignity
Our work on maternal health focuses primarily on obstetric fistula – a debilitating, yet avoidable consequence of prolonged labour. Sometimes lasting up to 7 days with no access to emergency obstetric care.
90% of women who develop obstetric fistula deliver stillborn babies (WHO 2018).
Obstetric fistula is a devastating pregnancy related disability. Fistulae are abnormal or surgically made passages between a hollow or tubular organ and the body surface, or between two hollow or tubular organs. Fistulae can occur during obstructed labour when the baby’s head exerts prolonged pressure on the mother’s pelvis. The blood supply to the tissue around her bladder, rectum and vagina is cut off, causing tissue damage and a hole. This results in leaking of urine and/or faeces through the woman’s vagina, nerve damage in their legs and sometimes, premature death from infection and kidney failure.
Young girls who experience obstetric fistula face social exclusion from their husband, families and the wider community. All in addition to health issues including constant incontinence, which strip them of all dignity – relegating them to a life of shame and poverty.
Each year, 50,000 to 100,000 women and girls worldwide are affected by obstetric fistula (WHO 2018)
We focus on promoting access to treatment, by increasing awareness of the support required to train health professionals working to prevent maternal health issues. We advocate for the end to child marriage – our research shows it is directly linked to obstetric fistula. We also support survivors by developing networks – in partnership with community-based organisations.
Did you know? Obstetric fistula is treatable. The success rate is 90% when carried out by trained medical professionals (The Royal College of Midwives (2010) – Obstetric Fistula, A Silent Tragedy, London)