More than 300 of the hundreds of thousands of Nigerian women living with fistula, a debilitating and sometimes fatal childbirth injury, have been treated surgically in the first week of a United Nations co-sponsored campaign in the West African country.
A team of 12 Nigerian surgeons and four doctors living in the United States and the United Kingdom also trained another 12 Nigerian physicians, 40 nurses and 40 social workers in fistula surgery and the special patient after-care needed.
"Fistula Fortnight," which ends on 6 March, started last Monday at four renovated hospitals in northern Nigeria, an area where the problem is particularly severe, with an official launch Tuesday at the Babbar Ruga Hospital in Katsina.
Lack of medical care 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 estimated 400,000 to 800,000 Nigerian mothers who may end up suffering from incontinence, infections, nerve damage and social ostracization.
"Fistula is so preventable, I just hate to think what these women's lives would be like without the surgery," said Gloria Esegbona, a Briton of Nigerian descent and one of the four international doctors participating in the Fistula Fortnight project, sponsored in part by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
"In Nigeria, women are acknowledged as primary providers of health care for their families and communities," said Gaji Fatima Dantata, the Commissioner for Women's Affairs in northern Kano State. "However, because of cultural practices, social inhibitions, illiteracy and low social status, their own health concerns and needs are often overlooked."
Fistula is curable through the reconstructive surgery the medical team is providing, with typical success rates of 90 per cent for uncomplicated cases and about 60 per cent for complex conditions, UNFPA said.