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In the News

Worldwide Fistula Fund Philanthropy Spotlight

December 17, 2015

Photo courtesy of Joni Kabana.Worldwide Fistula Fund Featured In West Suburban Philanthropic Network

In Uganda, 13-year-old Irene was in labor and alone. Her parents were deceased and her boyfriend had left her when he learned of her pregnancy. She begged a friend to take her to a rural clinic. Her labor was prolonged and the baby was stuck. They sent her to a health center and then she was finally ambulanced unconscious to Mulago Hospital. Irene nearly died in childbirth.

I asked, ‘Where is my baby?’ They told me my baby had passed away.


After five days, Irene awoke hooked up to IVs and a catheter. Then, she discovered that she was leaking urine uncontrollably. Irene was among 2 million women in the developing world suffering from an obstetric fistula.

Worldwide Fistula Fund (WFF) helps girls and women in Sub-Saharan Africa to heal and rebuild their lives after suffering the devastating childbirth injury, obstetric fistula. During prolonged, obstructed labor, pressure from the baby crushes and kills soft tissue creating a hole, or fistula, through which urine or feces passes uncontrollably. In 90% of childbirths resulting in a fistula, the baby dies.

Women with a fistula are often rejected by their husbands, shunned by their communities and live in isolation. They may neither know of treatment, nor possess the means to access healing surgery. In Uganda, a woman suffers an average of 10 years with fistula before receiving treatment.

“When a woman has an obstetric fistula, her life is shattered. Every woman we provide healing surgery to has a chance to regain her dignity. The vocational training we provide gives these women who live in extreme poverty the opportunity to earn income and start a new life.”- Soja Orlowski, Executive Director of WWF

A woman’s life-changing fistula surgery costs only $450. In 2012, the Worldwide Fistula Fund built the Danja Fistula Center in Niger and has provided over 500 free surgeries to date. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, visited Danja Fistula Center and wrote numerous articles about WFF and founder, Dr. Lewis Wall. WFF partners with local organization TERREWODE in Uganda to support women’s access to life-changing surgery. Successful surgery was the first step in Irene’s healing.

Photo courtesy of Joni Kabana.When Irene left the hospital, she had no money or place to stay. She had no job. Friends would not take her in; they didn’t believe her fistula was cured. Irene got back on her feet at the Women’s Empowerment Center in Uganda, opened in partnership with WFF. She learned vocational skills in sewing and handcrafting jewelry, but soon discovered her passion in cooking class. Irene regained confidence, her sense of purpose and the means to support herself. She now works at the Empowerment Center as a cook and counselor for other women healing and learning.

In addition to surgery, a safe place to heal and vocational training, WFF provides ongoing support through counseling and survivor networks, awareness and prevention education. They also train doctors to increase Sub-Saharan Africa’s capacity to treat women’s health issues.

After returning home, women are connected with fistula survivor support groups to provide a peer-to-peer network to ensure positive reintegration. WFF trains Community Health Advocates to provide prevention education in rural villages and to identify more women for treatment.

WFF also works toward fistula prevention, enhanced obstetric care and improved childbirth safety. WFF offers OB-GYN training through Mekelle University in Ethiopia that includes specialized training in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery (Urogynecology). Increasing the number of well-trained specialists means greater access to obstetric care and fewer cases of fistula for women in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Watch our video or donate to restore a woman’s life at

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Photos courtesy of Joni Kabana.

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