What We Do
HEALING WOMEN. RESTORING LIVES.
Worldwide Fistula Fund (WFF) is a nonprofit global health organization dedicated to the treatment and prevention of obstetric fistulas. WFF helps girls and women to heal, recover and rebuild their lives, while working to improve the safety of childbirth. WFF and our partners in sub-Saharan Africa provide girls and women with expert care and support to recover and rejoin society.
Together, we can restore health and dignity to girls and women in sub-Saharan Africa.
Tsahara was just 17 years old when she suffered an obstetric fistula: Watch video. During prolonged, obstructed labor a young woman like Tsahara can suffer a devastating childbirth injury called obstetric fistula: a hole between the bladder or rectum and the vagina that causes uncontrollable leaking of urine or feces. In 90% of cases the mother delivers a stillborn baby. A woman with a fistula cannot heal without surgery. Physical trauma is compounded by emotional and social trauma. Frightened and humiliated by her incontinence and rejected by family and community, women with fistulas live in near-total isolation.
This condition is both preventable and treatable, yet in developing nations, an estimated two million girls and women — many of them as young as 12 or 13 years old — currently suffer from an obstetric fistula.
With your help, we can provide the expert care that girls and women need for recovery. WFF and partner organizations provide life-changing fistula surgery and comprehensive post-operative healing through one-on-one counseling, long term hostel care and nutritional support.
After surgery, women restore their bodies and their physical capabilities through individual recovery plans and integrated physical therapy.
Labor that leads to a fistula often causes nerve damage that limits a woman’s mobility and weakens her abdominal and pelvic floor muscles making everyday tasks difficult, if not impossible. Many women with fistulas have lived in isolation for years and avoided performing these tasks — tasks their bodies must re-learn before returning home.
Women in rural Africa do heavy work such as transporting water and firewood over long distances for cooking and laundry. If a woman returns home too soon after fistula surgery or without adequate post-surgical therapy, there is a risk of re-opening the fistula. Appropriate therapy helps a woman regain her range of motion and strengthen her abdominal and pelvic floor muscles by building up to and then mimicking the daily chores she will need to safely perform once she returns home.
Beyond their physical injury, women with fistulas are emotionally devastated . Often, our fistula survivors have been rejected by their husbands and shunned by their communities. Some women are forced to return to their parents’ homes, while others live alone outside their village. All are profoundly isolated and rarely leave their hut. They are unwelcome to take part in village activities or to have social encounters with others. In order to rebuild their lives and rejoin their communities after surgery, they need counseling, support and practical skills.
Through our partner, TERREWODE, women access educational classes and vocational skills training , empowering them to generate their own income from handicraft work they proudly create. Women take classes in literacy and health, and choose to train in sewing, knitting, embroidery, beadwork, making jewelry and more. Women are welcomed back into their communities with valuable skills to provide goods and services appreciated by all.
Our support does not stop after treatment and recovery. A network of local support groups connects women with advocates and other fistula survivors to help them reintegrate into their communities once they return home. This peer-to-peer support ensures that fistula survivors who had previously been isolated are able to rejoin community life.
WFF works to increase access to expert obstetric care, prevent fistula and improve the overall safety of childbirth. Our programs educate not only doctors, but also community advocates who travel into rural villages.
WFF offers expert OB-GYN training through Mekelle University in Ethiopia. This includes specialized training in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery (urogynecology), as well as enhanced general obstetrics and gynecology training. More expert-trained doctors mean increased access to treatment for women who develop a fistula, prevention as well as safer childbirth overall. WFF and partners provide training to African doctors while performing life-changing fistula surgeries for women.
WFF works with local partners to train community members — both fistula survivors and others interested in improving women’s health — in advocacy.
Community advocates raise awareness of fistula risk factors at the village level to help women protect their own health. Additionally, they increase access to treatment by seeking out women in need of fistula care. In sub-Saharan Africa, lack of knowledge about causes and treatment for fistula often results in women suffering for years before seeking treatment.