Julia Mugadzaweta Features Correspondent
Eunice Chitombo of Makonde in Mashonaland West Province became pregnant at 16. Like many fistula survivors, she had a horrendous and long labour, and, tragically, the baby died in the long process. “I went into labour from March 10 to 14, 1989. On the fifth day I was ferried to Kenzamba after nurses realised that I had complications.
“I had an operation to deliver the baby who was already dead,” she said.
She discovered that she had obstetric fistula after recovering from a coma.
“At that time I was in a coma and, when I woke they realised that I could not control my bladder. I was taken to Parirenyatwa Hospital and they tried everything they could, but failed to help me. Since then I carried this problem with me.
“Everywhere I sat, I left a mark. People would come to see, and talk so much about the fact that I had a stench yet they did not know what was really going on. I was helpless and could not do anything about this,” she said.
She felt embarrassed and alienated.
Her life was hellish until recently when she was shortlisted for a fistula reconstructive surgery under a programme funded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Women and Health Alliance International (WAHA) at Chinhoi Hospital.
Another woman, Martha Muchingauta (23) of village 30 in Mutoko, comes from an area that is difficult to access and too far from health facilities.
She is also waiting for fistula reconstructive surgery at Chinhoyi Hospital.
“A traditional midwife helped me deliver but she gave up after noticing that the baby showed his hand first and not the head. I was then taken to Nhowe Mission Hospital. The loss of my child was devastating – as was life with the condition, I thought that l was cursed,” she said.
Many women with fistula are abandoned by their families and persecuted by their community. Eunice and Martha both lost their husbands after a few months of living with the condition.
“Our church does not approve to western medication and with this condition I had to explore every avenue of help. My husband and I could not agree on anything. The condition is easily prevented through access to emergency obstetric care – usually in the form of a Caesarean section. In fact, it is preventable and has been essentially eliminated in industrialised countries.
Sadly in Zimbabwe, most affected women are not aware of available treatment for this condition.