One day of living with a condition like Fistula is one day too long. And yet 75 year old Prisca Ariri from Bosiango area in Nyamira county has had to endure the debilitating condition for 50 years of her life. Prisca is a mother of 10 though 7 of these children have passed on and like in majority of cases, her fistula case was occasioned by difficult labour. She’s a jovial soul and it is hard to fathom what she has been through for the largest percentage of her life.
For a condition that is actually preventable and treatable, it is unfortunate that fistula is quite misunderstood, widespread and women worldwide are suffering quietly. In our society especially, treatment and management of fistula is hampered by myths and misconceptions closely associated with culture. Women with fistula are often isolated, partly because it eats at their self esteem and they avoid people, and partly because they actually smell and people avoid them for that. They’re often banished to a life of loneliness and poverty since they cannot even work.
What is Fistula and how does it come about?
Fistula is a hole in the birth canal and is mostly, though not always as a result of obstructed labour.
“For women with obstructed labour, labour that goes unattended, the labour can last up to six or seven days. The labour produces contractions that push the baby’s head against the mother’s pelvic bone. The soft tissues between the baby’s head and the pelvic bone are compressed and do not receive adequate blood flow. The lack of blood flow causes this delicate tissue to die, and where it dies holes are created between the labouring mother’s bladder and vagina and/or between the rectum and vagina. This is what produces incontinence in a fistula patient”. Source.
A hole between the bladder and vagina and/or the rectum and vagina means that the affected person is always unintentionally leaking either urine or worse, faeces. This person has to live in the resultant poor hygiene and a perpetual foul smell. More than this, they have to live with the crippling psychological effects of embarrassment and isolation from society. As a woman it is difficult to imagine what my fellow women with the condition go through. Something as every day as staying clean and dry becomes an emotional burden and expensive nightmare.
For 50 years, an otherwise jovial Prisca was shamed by the community around her and by the embarrassing effects of fistula to a point where she could not leave home. At some point for a few years she used diapers but her son who was financially facilitating this was killed during the tribal clashes that rocked the country in 2007/2008. Her son’s death brought her back to zero in terms of daily management of her hygiene.
2 years ago, her sister mentioned the Safaricom Foundation medical camp which was coming to an area near her home and she decided to give it a try. That was the turning point in her life. She was identified at the camp as a candidate for further treatment and the foundation facilitated her two surgeries and further management of her condition to full recovery. Before someone told her to go for a Safaricom Foundation medical camp, she had tried treatment in hospitals in Kendu Bay and other areas but nothing came of that.
Safaricom Foundation Fistula medical camps are mobile clinics that are financed and facilitated by Safaricom Foundation in partnership with the Flying Doctors Society of Africa. The camps serve different areas offering residents free diagnosis and medical care. These camps are a transformative life changer to those who are living with ailments but cannot afford treatment. For those identified as needing further care like in the case of Prisca, the foundation takes up their cases to a higher level and caters for treatment there too.
Prisca is now free of fistula. Unlike her yester mornings which were a grim routine of cleaning up the overnight effects of fistula, now she sleeps on a dry bed and wakes up bright and fresh to tend to the farm and to play with her grand children. This is a reality she never dreamed of, having resigned herself to the fate of uncleanliness and isolation. Now, the God fearing woman can go to church freely, and mingle with people.
To Safaricom Foundation, and to all the doctors and nurses who have had a hand in her healing, she says thank you thank you thank you for saving her sunset years from the shame that is Fistula. She also vows to spread word about the medical camps as much as possible to reach other people who might be suffering.
“My sons and daughters at Safaricom – God bless you” – Prisca Ariri.
Fistula is not always as a result of obstructed labour. 5 year old Virginia from Gatundu also has fistula but hers came about in a totally different way. Virginia is also a beneficiary of Safaricom Foundation’s mobile clinic.
Virginia’s woes started when she accidentally fell into a pot of boiling water at home. She was admitted in ICU for 2 months with severe burns and her fistula is as a result of having a catheter on for too long. Other side effects of treatment that the little girl is having to live with other than fistula are a wound on her head due to prolonged use of drip syringes, and on her leg for the same reason.
Ill health and especially fistula at such an early age have affected Virginia psychologically too. At some point she was so down she withdrew and did not talk even to her closest caregivers. She passes urine all the time and this has made her shy and withdrawn at school.
Virginia has been through 18 surgeries to date and by the time Safaricom Foundation came calling, her grandparents who are her only providers were down to almost nothing. Her grandma is suffering from a heart condition and they all depend on the grandpa’s small-scale farm and chicken business for medication which weighs the family down financially. The mum is also currently on the loose, that’s why she stays with grandparents. Her aunt braids her hair and adds a small patch of weave to cover the scar to her head just to reduce the stigma in some way.
Virgi as she’s fondly known those around her is young and with the help she’s getting, she’s also on her way to full recovery.