National Association for Continence website, describes fistula as an abnormal connection or passageway that connects two organs or vessels that do not usually connect, could be anywhere between an intestine and the skin, between the vagina and the rectum, and other places.
The common of this condition is the obstetric fistula, usually caused by neglected or obstructed labour among women which develops between either the rectum and the vagina, or between the bladder and vagina. Most victims were facing stigma and isolation until the Women at Work International (WAWI) initiative happened.
WAWI came in as an avenue that has helped victims who continue to face stigma from society to overcome fistula, through arrangements with Global Peace Foundation and support from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in recognising men who have stood with their wives in the battle against fistula as fistula champions and encouraging others to follow in their footsteps.
Precious Sharon Namakula, 25, was born with fistula and lived with it for almost 20 years. She still recalls how her father walked out on her mother as soon as he discovered she had the condition. It did not get any better when she grew up and joined high school.
“When I got a scholarship at Seeta High School Mukono after performing well in the primary, my mother had to rent [a house] near the school so that she could bring me clothes and disposable diapers to change frequently. It was a traumatising experience. You don’t know what it means to be an adolescent who smells all the time,” she narrates, amid tears.
Thanks to surgery, her life switched back to normal. She was able to receive a full scholarship to Makerere University and she now works with a telecommunications company.
Ivan recalls how his house was always having a bad odour because his wife was always oozing urine and cried all the time. For the five years, she had the condition he would skip work to be there for his wife, despite the fact that she lived far from home. She was all by herself as friends abandoned her. But as fate had it, she underwent surgery and finally married the love of his life.
“At one point, friends deserted me and I chose to isolate myself. I would send visitors away whenever my husband asked me to come out and meet people. He didn’t give up on me until we got help and I got an operation at Mulago hospital. After I got well, we finally had a wedding to celebrate,” his wife said.
Kaluuma was struck with double tragedy when he finally got into the hospital to learn that his wife had lost their child during the labour, which later led to his wife oozing blood for the next seven years. Until her ray of hope came when a charity organisation offered to take care of her treatment at Kitovu Hospital.
“I lived in shame and I was always worried. I could not believe it when we got help. I lived with fistula for seven years. In all the seven years I suffered, my husband never left me alone. Sometimes, I thought he would run away while I was sleeping but he did not,” she narrated.