Renewed hope for fistula survivors in Eastern Uganda

Inspired by the fistula repair programme initiated by Amref Health Africa as a part of Uganda’s Staying Alive Project, women in the Teso Region of Eastern Uganda have come together to form a support group to help them come to terms with their new lifestyles, as well as improve their livelihoods since their reparative surgeries.

Based in Kateta in the Serere District, the Aipecitoi Women’s group brings together resources from each member to help develop small-scale income generating activities and encourage stable livelihoods. Each woman contributes Ugsh2,000 shillings (USD1) which is used to help with group operations.

These women have undergone a long and difficult journey suffering from fistulas. In many cases they were shunned by their families and communities due to the adverse effects of the condition (leakage of urine and faeces, or both which smells) leading to depression, loss of dignity, and in many cases, permanent social exclusion.

An obstetric fistula is an injury sustained during prolonged and obstructed labor, causing a hole to develop in the birth canal. The condition affects women physically but also leads to social and economic difficulties due to being cast out from family and the community. Unfortunately, obstetric fistulas remain one of the major contributors to maternal mortality despite being both preventable and treatable.

While obstetric fistulas have been virtually eliminated in most parts of the world, the Uganda Demographic Health Survey (UDHS, 2011) indicated that Uganda has the third largest burden of fistula in the world.

In 1999, Amurhon Mary, a mother of three and member of the Aipecitoi Women’s group, lost her fourth child due to a difficult labour and delivery. The ordeal left her with a fistula and, at age 55, she was consequently abandoned by her husband and brothers, spending the next 15 years of her life in seclusion.

“I didn’t ever think in my life that I would ever heal from fistula,” says Mary. “I thought I had been bewitched, since urine used to flow endlessly from me and I had this stench that chased everyone away from me.”

“I was abandoned by my husband as soon as I started leaking urine. He married two more women and threw me out of the house , but worse, I was shunned by everyone. Amref Health Africa rescued me from this nightmare and gave me hope. I am happy to say that today the future is looking brighter for women like me who have undergone fistula repair and are able to return to our communities,” says Mary.

To help deal with the stigma related to the condition, Mary’s father-in-law offered her a small piece of land in Soroti District, where she has since relocated and started a new life. Despite having to start a new life with no support from family or friends, Mary is currently working as a farmer and with the help of the Aipecitoi group, hopes to raise money to start a small business.