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Borno Headline Health News Nigeria Special Report

Surviving Obstetric Fistula in Borno

Survivors of obstetric fistula skilfully knitting caps after being economically empowered by the Borno State government and international partners. Photo: Dauda Iliya

“The fistula manifested when I delivered my 5th child. My people abandoned me when my condition was severe, I hardly attended social events because people distanced themselves from me. I have been operated on, 2 times but thanked God I am now healed”, 40 year old Fatima Mohammed who is coping with life after treatment from obstetric fistula narrated.

Obstetric Fistula is the uncontrolled flow of urine or faeces due to prolonged obstructed labour.

Obstetric Fistula is a public health condition and the most devastating pregnancy related disability in the county, Currently, Nigeria accounts for 40% of fistula cases worldwide with more than 50,000 cases annually. 

Although the condition is preventable and treatable, many women have not been able to access these services due to cultural factors, poverty and other sundry reasons. 

As the world marks the international day to end obstetric fistula, Radio Nigeria examine efforts to achieve zero fistula in Borno State, the epicentre of Boko Haram insurgency and how survivors have been empowered. 

The Boko Haram insurgency heightened cases of obstetric fistula and gender based violence due to mass displacement of people and destruction of health facilities in Borno. 

According to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), more than 400,000 women have not accessed fistula treatment in Nigeria and a significant number of them are in the North Eastern part of the country. 

However, in an effort to achieve Goal 3, Target 7 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to ensure access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services, UNFPA with support of Korea International Agency (KOICA) and Borno state government have established a 40 fistula centers in Maiduguri, where more than 600 fistula repairs have been carried out. 

One of the fistula survivors Fatima Mohammed making local perfume as her means of livelihood. Photo: Dauda Iliya

Fatima Mohammed a mother of 7 and Fati Abba, mother of 8 have been battling with the condition for about 25 years and are among 200 repaired fistula survivors rehabilitated and trained in skills of cap making and local perfume production to improve their means of livelihood. 

“As you can see, this trade of local perfume production is really helping me. I usually package it to ceremonies and many people patronise me”, Fatima Mohammed narrated. 

Stigmatisation and abandonment has often been mentioned by survivors as a major challenge they have to live with and this was also the case for 42 year old Fatti Abba.

“I have been living with my aged mother with my 8 children for about 5 years because my husband divorced me twice due to my condition. Before now, I had no entrepreneurial skills, but today, I knit caps and use the proceeds to cater for my aged mother and children.

I have suffered serious stigma from family members and neighbours but thank God I am now healed, I have even delivered 2 babies after the repair. I’m now living happily with my husband” she joyfully narrated to Radio Nigeria. 

Director Women Affairs, Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development Hajiya Falmata Gambo explained that aside livelihood intervention, the survivors also receive psycho-social support and counselling to overcome their challenges. 

“They will be supported with grants and starter kits for the skill they have been trained on so that they can continue with their lives and be accepted in the society” Mrs Gambo explained. 

Sexual Reproductive Health Specialist, United Nations Population Fund Maiduguri Sub Office, Kelvin Chukwuemeka said 584 healthcare providers and 90 skilled birth attendants have been trained in an effort to achieve zero fistula in Borno state. 

He added that the intervention has has restored hope of women and girls suffering from obstetric fistula.

Reporting by Dauda Iliya; editing Muzha Kucha