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Photo: L. Santaniello

Photo: L. Santaniello

In December 2016, we launched a partnership with the UNFPA Malawi, the Malawi Ministry of Health, and local district hospitals to help treat women in the southern region who are suffering with obstetric fistula and to train surgeons in fistula surgery. It is estimated that over 2 million women suffer with this condition and for every 1 woman treated, 50 remain untreated. IMR is committed to treat the women affected, often the poorest and most marginalized, for free. Importantly, our commitment goes beyond surgery and extends to training surgeons and nurses in this field. This includes pre- and post- operative care and patient safety.

Last April, Liz Santaniello, MSN, FNP-BC and I worked at the Mulanje District hospital. We evaluated 30 women with fistula and treated over 25 with very successful outcomes. IMR held a day-long training workshop for surgeons and nurses in Mulanje.

WHAT IS AN OBSTETRIC FISTULA? Obstetric fistula is a debilitating child birth injury that results from prolonged obstructed labor (it can often be several days) and the inability to obtain a timely and safe operative delivery, in almost all cases, a cesarean section. These injuries have severe complications, leading to a hole between the bladder and vagina, or the rectum and vagina, resulting in constant urine or stool leakage, and in some cases, 15-20%, incontinence of both. Since the injury is vast, leading to tissue death and scarring, we often see damage to pelvic organs, infertility, leg paralysis (footdrop), skin ulcers and more. This injury also leads to social isolation and depression.

Over 90% women lose their babies during birth. This was true in Mulanje also. Some are fortunate, as were Emily and Christine, in Mulanje, both were healed after we repaired severe birth trauma in the form of a fistula and ruptured anal sphincter. They both were able to continue to breastfeed their babies. They’ll return home to family once  healed and  counseled on ways to prevent this from recurring in next pregnancies: good prenatal care and delivery in a hospital, preferably by cesarean section.

Photo: A. Sleemi

Photo: A. Sleemi

WHAT DO WE DO IMR has surgeons who have advanced specialty training in how to repair these devastating and often extensive pelvic injuries. Our surgeons have spent years training in the best centers in the world with the most experienced fistula surgeons. Our fistula surgeons return frequently to work with the world’s experts to continue advance their surgical skills to help women. We are also educators, with decades of teaching students, residents and fellows worldwide. Patient care and teaching are our passion.

WAYS TO HELP We’ll be returning to Malawi later this year to continue training local surgeons and transforming women’s lives with surgical repairs of fistulas. None of our work in Malawi, Liberia, Haiti or Puerto Rico could happen without your support. Please make a tax-deductible donation here.

-Ambereen Sleemi, MD, MPH, FACOG
Executive Director, Surgical Director