Doctors in Nigeria to get training in treating fistula, UN says

18 February 2005

With hundreds of thousands of Nigerian women living with fistula, a debilitating and sometimes fatal childbirth injury, a team of international and Nigerian surgeons will train volunteer physicians in fistula surgery and together they will treat an unprecedented number of women for two weeks, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

"Fistula fortnight" kicks off Monday at four renovated hospitals in northern Nigeria, where the problem is particularly severe, with an official launch Tuesday at the Babbar Ruga Hospital in Katsina.

UNFPA said it expected that 12 Nigerian and four international doctors would be trained in fistula surgery, along with 40 nurses trained in special pre- and post-operative care and 40 social workers trained to take care of fistula patients.

Lack of medical intervention during prolonged, obstructed labour damages the mother's soft pelvic tissues and creates a hole, or fistula, in her bladder and/or rectum. The injury is usually fatal for the baby, while causing severe physical and emotional trauma to the mother who may suffer from incontinence, infections and nerve damage.

The social fallout is also severe, with many of the estimated 400,000 to 800,000 Nigerian women living with fistula ostracized by their communities, UNFPA said. About 20,000 new cases are added each year.

In addition to being preventable, fistula is curable through reconstructive surgery, which typically has success rates of 90 per cent for uncomplicated cases and about 60 per cent for complex conditions, UNFPA said.