Often times while doing surgery for a woman with an obstetric fistula, I wish I could do more to prevent the fistula from occuring in the first place. Many of our patients are young, have lost their baby through the experience, and sometimes have even had to have a hysterectomy in order to save their lives. An obstetric fistula is caused by obstructed labor during childbirth. In these cases, the woman needs a cesarean delivery, however if she is unable to access a hospital where she can have a cesarean in time, she can end up with a fistula--or a hole between the bladder and the vagina or the rectum and the vagina. This leaves the woman leaking urine (and sometimes feces) uncontrollably.
This is just one of the many problems that can happen when people are separated from medical care due to lack of infrastructure. Last week, our team from Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children's Hospital (https://globalhealth.texaschildrens.org/) and Freedom from Fistula (http://www.freedomfromfistula.org/) re-traced the steps of a woman living in a remote village in Dedza East, Malawi. As we traveled from the village to the nearest health center, we came across a broken down bridge (see photos). The lack of a bridge here makes it impossible for an emergency vehicle, such as an ambulance, to travel. Once the rainy season begins, it will become even more challenging for people to cross by foot. We asked the community living in the village what they do when a woman is in labor and needs to get to the health center 10 kilometers away. They said they have no choice but to carry her on their backs until they can reach a place where she could be transported by a bicycle. As we continued towards the health center, we found 3 additional bridges that have broken down.
What can we do about it? We decided that we are going to take a day out of the operating room, get our hands dirty and build some bridges! We have an amazing team to help us accomplish this.
Honorable Juliana Lunguzi, a Member of Parliament, representing Dedza East is a former midwife and Champion of Women's Health. She is excited to make this a success in her district. (https://mamaye.org/blog/i-am-bold-change-i-just-do-it)
Chief Theresa Kachindamoto, one of the only female chiefs in Malawi, is the chief of this area, Masinja. She is famous for sending girls back to school and preventing child marriages. We are so happy she is also interested in building the bridges with us. (https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/malawi-chief-woman-ends-sex-initiation-and-child-m/)
Because of these partners, the entire community will be involved from the beginning. The community will all work together to physically build and repair the bridges along with a team of expert engineers to assist us in creating long-lasting and durable bridges.
Your contribution will go towards purchasing the building materials, coming from the community as well, to actually create the bridges. You will literally be contributing to bridging the villages in Masinja to health services.
We hope that in addition to the physical bridges, we can use the opportunity to raise awareness about obstetric fistula and the importance of skilled medical assistance for pregnant women. We realize that these bridges will extend beyond assisting the community's health, but will likely help in transporting farm goods for economic development of the village, school children in reaching class, and so much more. Without your help, there is no way we can reach our goal.
Read more about our work with obstetric fistula: https://bit.ly/2tWtWlx
Read more about our work with mothers in Malawi: https://bit.ly/2CYZNXA