Guest Blog — My Final Trip to Africa for 2016 and WFF's Bright Future
December 9, 2016
Guest blog by Dr. Lewis Wall
That’s me breaking ground for Danja Fistula Center. (Photo courtesy Dr. Wall.)
I am packing for my final 2016 trip to visit WFF programs in Uganda and Ethiopia and find myself reflecting on all that we have accomplished together. My heart is full of gratitude in this season of giving.
When I founded the Worldwide Fistula Fund, I was humbled by the outpouring of generosity and support for the underserved women who live in a completely different world from most of us. I’ve seen these women firsthand. I’ve witnessed their suffering. Most of you have not.
Yet, you did not hesitate when I asked for your help. Together, we have come so far since I moved that first spade of dirt at the site for Danja Fistula Center. You have profoundly changed — indeed transformed — the lives of some of the poorest, most vulnerable women on earth since the Danja Fistula Center opened in 2012.
It is not easy to be a woman anywhere, but it is especially difficult to be a woman in Niger. Nigerien girls are married as adolescents, only 11% of women are literate, first pregnancy occurs by the age of 18, and the typical woman in Niger will have 7 children. A woman’s life expectancy is only 57 years in Niger, as compared to 82 years in the United States. Life in Niger is often grim.
A Nigerien girl’s first pregnancy occurs by age 18. (Photo courtesy Cambey Mikush & Loran Hollander.)
In sub-Saharan Africa, obstructed labor is common and it is almost impossible for many women to get emergency obstetric care. Many women labor for several days, only to deliver a stillborn baby. If the mother survives, she is often left with horrific pelvic injuries. The most common injury is obstetric fistula — a hole between the bladder and the vagina — through which urine leaks in a continuous stream. Prolapse of the pelvic organs is also common: the uterus, bladder, and sometimes the rectum all falling out through the vaginal opening. Women with these injuries suffer pain, stigma, embarrassment, and often become recluses, separated from their husbands and the wider society. These injuries can only be healed through surgical care.
In the past four years, Danja Fistula Center has provided nearly 1,000 surgeries, healing women and transforming lives.
At Mekelle University, we launched Ethiopia’s first Urogynecology Fellowship Training Program with a coalition of distinguished partners. Your support provides surgery to these women suffering from pelvic organ prolapse while training the next generation of African medical professionals.
In 1 week, I will attend graduation ceremonies at Mekelle University for some of the medical students that we’ve trained!
Seeking surgery: women, mainly from the Tigray region, come to Mekelle University and greet our doctors. (Photo courtesy Joni Kabana.)
My first stop on this upcoming trip is a visit to TERREWODE, our partner in Uganda, where you have helped women access free surgery, counseling services, nutritional support and vocational skills training. Fistula survivors are provided accommodations and meals at the Women’s Empowerment Center in Soroti where they attend literacy, reproductive health and finance classes. They also receive skills training in sewing, cooking, business startups and micro-finance to help them become financially independent.
You are imperative for the future of the Worldwide Fistula Fund!
In 2017, we will continue our vital follow-up research with patients to improve our program effectiveness and to document the profound impact our programs have on the women’s financial security and quality of life. At the December congress of the Society of Urology in Burkina Faso, our fistula surgeon, Dr. Itengre will present our follow-up study results of 384 Danja Fistula Center patients. This same research was recently accepted for publication in the International Urogynecology Journal!
Right now, WFF Vice Chair, Dr. Christopher Payne, is at Danja Fistula Center with Dr. Itengre performing surgery on women with some of the most complex fistula injuries. In a few days, the two of them will travel to Burkina Faso to meet with potential academic and government partners to discuss the possible development of fistula services there.
From opening the doors of Danja Fistula Center, to expanding and growing our mission throughout Africa, you have been with us all the way, healing women and preventing childbirth injuries. Thank you from WFF and the women you help us serve. Only through people like you is this work possible.
Dr. Wall, was recently published in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Residual Incontinence After Obstetric Fistula Repair”