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HAT - Humanitarian Aid Trust Nepal

A Renewed Life – Dealing with the physical and emotional impact of Fistula

For years, Sabitri* endured the pain of obstetric fistula without any medical attention. Thanks to INF Nepal Fistula Outreach work, in 2020 Sabitri was identified by a local Female Community Health Volunteer who was trained on fistula by INF’s fistula outreach worker and in spring of 2021, Sabitri was taken to the Fistula Centre for treatment. Sabitri’s story is one suffering and, ultimately, a renewal of hope, a renewed life.

“I had gotten preg­nant at the age of 19, I strug­gled at home for 5 days with labour pain and later I was carried to the com­mu­nity health post. I lost the baby, and I got a fistula, then the pain of living with fistula.” This was the start of Sabitri’s 26-year strug­gle. In remote places of Nepal, people don’t have proper access to health care, where pro­tracted labour often goes unas­sisted, or badly assisted, fis­tu­las occur far more reg­u­larly and often go untreated.

Forty-five years old Sabitri is from the Baitadi dis­trict of far west Nepal. She was married when she was only ten years old and her husband eleven years old. She has faced both normal and dif­fi­cult deliv­er­ies and has lost two babies. During her first deliv­ery, Sabitri devel­oped a fistula as she went through a long labour. Unfor­tu­nately, the baby did not survive. She suf­fered con­tin­u­ous urine incon­ti­nence and nerve damage.

After her first preg­nancy, for fifteen years there were no further preg­nan­cies and Sabitri thought it was because of her urine leaking. There was no one else in the village with this problem and she was despised. The vil­lagers used to spit and call names. No one came near her; she was always alone. Life was hard. In the hot weather, she devel­oped ulcers from the urine burns and, tired of con­tin­u­ously chang­ing she would sleep in the wet clothes.

Sabitri and her husband trav­elled to several other hos­pi­tals even in India seeking treat­ment but to no avail. Then, after 15 long years, Sabitri dis­cov­ered that she was preg­nant again. This time she was able to deliver the baby boy at home without dif­fi­culty. Another unsuc­cess­ful preg­nancy fol­lowed; the baby could not survive. Six years ago, her little girl was born while she was out in the forest cutting grass and with the same sickle, she cut the babies cord, wrapped her in her dress and brought her home.

Sabitri’s strug­gle went on, even her son would not come closer and eat the food cooked by her due to her urine leak problem. For a mother, Sabitri had to endure much more emo­tional pain and trauma bat­tling the unknown. One of the FCHVs iden­ti­fied Sabitri’s problem. She con­tacted the Fistula Centre. Finally, in March 2021, she got the oper­a­tion at the Fistula Centre.

She had to wait with a catheter for two weeks before knowing if the oper­a­tion was suc­cess­ful. When the catheter was removed, she was dry and very happy. “I have a new life. Before this, I thought this would never be treated and I would have this trouble until I die. But at last, I had a treat­ment and I have been saved. I am so thank­ful for this hos­pi­tal and the free treat­ment that I received.”

Sabitri made friends with other women who had also suf­fered the same problem. She learned that she is not the only woman living with fistula under the sun.

INF’s fistula team is com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing more than just surgery for women; restor­ing women to full health filled with hope and dignity.

If you want to know more about the fistula work that INF is involved in or to support this work, then please contact the INF New Zealand director at [email protected]

*Name changed for anonymity