What is a Fistula?
Many people in developed countries are unfamiliar with what fistulas are because modern medicine has virtually ended the occurrence, particularly by performing C-sections when necessary during an obstructed childbirth. However, in developing countries, especially sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, fistulas are a major health issue for a significant amount of women, estimated to be about 2 million.
An obstetric fistula is a complication from a prolonged labor that damages the tissues in such a manner that results in the continual leakage of urine or feces through the birth canal. In addition to the physical injury, the majority of those that suffer from the condition are alienated by society, and are shamed into hiding because of their uncontrollable hygiene issues.
Obstetric fistula is both preventable and treatable. It can be prevented if laboring women are provided with adequate and timely emergency obstetric care when complications arise. However, the reality is that roughly 50% of women in developing countries don’t have access to a trained professional when giving birth. Once a fistula has developed, however, the only cure is surgical treatment.
World Telehealth Initiative is working to treat women with fistulas in Malawi. This year we have implemented our telehealth program into a Fistula Clinic in Lilongwe, and offer scores of women access to the medical expertise of our physicians in the U.S. These specialists can interact with patients through our virtual care devices and guide on-site doctors through the intricate and sometimes difficult surgeries.