The Council and partners are working to prevent and treat fistula in low-income countries.
Obstetric fistula is a complication of prolonged obstructed labor that results in a hole between the vagina and the bladder or rectum through which urine or feces leak. It is most common in low-income countries where access to emergency obstetric services is limited. Women may also experience fistula caused by medical procedures or sexual violence. An unrepaired fistula can lead to lifelong ostracism, stigma, and shame for affected women.
While fistula is both preventable and treatable, millions of women worldwide are currently living with fistula, and at least 50,000–100,000 new cases occur every year. Women may not seek treatment for their fistula because they do not know that repair is possible, because of financial or transportation barriers to accessing care, or because of a lack of skilled fistula repair surgeons in their area.
The Population Council is partnering with the Fistula Care Plus (FC+) project—a five-year cooperative agreement funded by USAID and managed by EngenderHealth—to prevent and treat fistula in five countries: Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, Nigeria, and Uganda.
Project partners are working to:
- Strengthen fistula repair services in the public and private sectors.
- Enhance community understanding of and practices to prevent fistula, improve access to treatment, reduce stigma, and support women and girls with fistula, including those whose fistulas are considered incurable and those whose fistulas are the result of sexual violence.
- Reduce barriers to accessing preventive care, detection, treatment, and support.
- Improve the ability of providers, health facilities, and health systems to provide and sustain high-quality fistula care services.
- Strengthen the evidence base to improve fistula care and expand the application of standard monitoring and evaluation and indicators for prevention and treatment.
In Nigeria and Uganda, Population Council researchers are investigating how best to improve and expand access to fistula treatment centers, with a particular focus on reducing financial barriers related to transportation for women seeking fistula repair and increasing access to safe maternal care to prevent obstetric fistula.
With appropriate resources, awareness, knowledge, and strong health systems for prevention, treatment, and support, fistula will become a rare event for future generations of women.