About Fistula



Despite its devastating impact on the lives of girls and women, obstetric fistula is still largely neglected in the developing world. It has remained a ‘hidden’ condition, because it affects some of the most marginalized members of the population-poor, young, often illiterate girls and women in remote regions of the world.

Joy Phumaphi
World Health Organization

Obstetric fistula is a severe medical condition in which a hole (fistula) develops between either the rectum and vagina or between the bladder and vagina during childbirth. The fistula usually develops during prolonged or obstructed labor when the baby’s head is pressed into the mother’s pelvis. If not treated in time, the pressure stops the flow of blood into the pelvic organs and can kill the tissue and leave a small hole in her body. Without surgical intervention, urine, feces or both may flow through the gap, causing a lifetime of incontinence, infection and shame. In most cases where labor is so extreme as to cause a fistula, the baby does not survive.

Once common throughout the world, this condition was eliminated in wealthy countries when obstetric care improved and the Cesarean section became widely available. Sadly, obstetric fistula continues to devastate women throughout the developing world. Pregnant women in some parts of Africa and Asia, among other areas, must suffer the agony of both prolonged labor and the injury it can cause with little or no access to basic healthcare. In nearly all instances we have seen or heard about, a woman suffering from this injury in is subjected to a cascade of physical, social, and psychological catastrophes, leaving her to endure unimaginable pain with no support and little hope. In addition to being cast out of her family and denied the opportunity to earn a living for herself, her injuries may cause infertility, recurring infections, loss of sexual function, paralysis and eventually death. Women who contract fistula are often extremely young, impoverished and unaware of – or unable to access – the treatments available to repair their ravaged bodies.

To This Day…

We have no reliable statistics on the magnitude of this problem. Some estimates have determined that more than three million women in sub-Saharan Africa are currently living with this tragic condition, and up to 130,000 new instances arise yearly. The good news is that fistula is preventable and treatable and – with your help – the Worldwide Fistula Fund will end this global crisis.