Liberia: Increased Availability of Obstetric Fistula Treatment for Liberian Women
Monday, July 15, 2013 10:25 AM

The Liberian government’s Liberia Fistula Program (LFP) is giving hope to young women living with obstetric fistulas, a condition that can occur during protracted childbirth. Young women whose bodies are not sufficiently developed and women who have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) are particularly vulnerable. An obstetric fistula occurs when the baby is trapped in the birth canal for too long, creating a hole between the vaginal wall and the rectum. Because a fistula an cause incontinence, women with obstetric fistulas are frequently rejected or abandoned by their families because of the odor caused by their condition. The condition also leads many girls to drop out of school and reduces their chances for employment.
The LFP was launched in 2007 and seeks to help women with fistulas through a combination of medical treatment, healthcare training, and community education. Treatment for fistulas is available to patients free of charge at 48 clinics throughout Liberia. The government has enlisted nurses to train other nurses in rural regions on proper fistula management and to supplement the small number of doctors qualified to perform the surgery. The LFP also focuses on preventive methods, such as family planning to ensure that young women do not become pregnant while their bodies are still undeveloped and encourages women to seek medical assistance during labor to decrease childbirth complications. Currently, approximately 75 percent of Liberian women give birth without trained health worker assistance.
The program also seeks to prevent obstetric fistula by increasing public awareness of the condition and the availability of treatment. Mistaken beliefs regarding the causes of fistula—including, for example, that it is caused by witchcraft—lead sufferers of fistula to believe that their condition is untreatable. Because of the stigma of fistulas, women may be ostracized from their communities not only while suffering from the condition but even after they have been treated. The public education initiative of the LFP aims to dispel the myths surrounding fistulas in order to ease women's reentry into their communities post-treatment. By spreading the word on the causes of fistulas and the options available to those who suffer from it, the LFP has increased the number of patients seeking treatment and improved the futures of many young women.
Compiled from: “Boost for Fistula Treatment in Liberia,IRIN (10 July 2013).