Blessing in Disguise: Fistula Survivor Now Community Advocate

24 July 2017
Zobayeda developed obstetric fistula – a serious childbirth injury from obstructed or prolonged labour.

After three days of labour pain, Zobayeda discovers her baby has died. 

“I got married when I was 16 and soon became pregnant. When I started experiencing pain, the dai traditional birth attendant couldn’t help me,” she says.

“Days later I was taken to a hospital where my lifeless child was delivered. After my catheter was removed, I started passing urine uncontrollably.”

Zobayeda developed obstetric fistula – a serious childbirth injury from obstructed or prolonged labour. A hole forms between the birth canal and bladder or rectum, causing incontinence.

Fistula occurs mostly in poorer countries with limited access to professional health services. An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 women develop fistula each year with at least 2 million currently living with it. In Bangladesh as many as 70,000 women are feared to be living with the condition. 

Adding to their physical pain, these women experience exclusion, shame, further medical issues and are unable to work – all increasing their poverty. 

“I kept crying. But the doctors at Dhaka Medical College Hospital assured me I would get better with surgery, medication and recovery exercises. And eventually I got better.” 

During her rehabilitation, with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Bangladesh Women’s Health Coalition, she received sewing training, supplies and a grant to start a tailoring business. Today she is expanding her business, raising her son and has been a dedicated fistula advocate for the past 8 years.

Ending fistula in Bangladesh

Zobayeda is a true success story of the ongoing partnership between the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and UNFPA. The threefold approach to end fistula in Bangladesh focuses on prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. As a result, 4, 221 fistula repair surgeries have been done in Bangladesh medical college hospitals between 2003 and 2016.

But there is a long way to go. 58% of deliveries in Bangladesh are still conducted without a skilled health service provider and only 37% are conducted in health facilities.

To end fistula, an almost entirely preventable condition, UNFPA and its partners are working towards ensuring universal access to quality sexual and reproductive health services.

UNFPA is also digging into the underlying issues of fistula by addressing child marriage and linked early child bearing, gender inequality, human rights and education. It is also engaging fistula survivors in community outreach.

Empowered through rebuilding their lives, fistula survivors are stepping out of isolation to help others. They are using their voices to end stigma, encourage others to seek treatment and educate on fistula prevention. 

“I might have had fistula but it became a blessing in disguise. I think about the fistula patients who have suffered for a long time with no knowledge that they can be cured. I want to work for them. I want to raise 100% awareness so this can be a fistula free community.”