By Chioma Obinna
I had lived with Fistula since the Biafran war. People shunned me each time I tried to sit close to them. Life was living hell for me. I could not attend meetings with fellow women” said Mrs Nworogwu Odoh in the Ikwo dialect amidst chants of Halleluya by other natives of Oron’a, Amagu community of Ikwo local government area of Ebonyi State.
Ecstatic, Odoh continued. “Today, I am free from my pain. I am free from many years of stigma due to fistula. I am free now, I can sit wherever I want. I will tie my wrapper to our women’s meetings. I am happy. I am free.”
It was a day of thanksgiving and celebration for the community in appreciation of the changing face of healthcare in Oron’a Amagu.
Fistula is an abnormal opening in the birth canal that results in chronic leakage of urine or faeces.
For women of Oron’a Amagu and many others in Ebonyi State, fistula is a raging threat. Health workers attribute it to Harmful Traditional Practices like female circumcision and delivery at home under unskilled birth attendants amongst others.
In the view of Mrs Ngede Alexander, the joy in the community was not unexpected because the practice female circumcision and delivering their babies at home had stopped, thanks to the education and awareness campaigns by EngenderHealth and partners in the State.
“Before now many women usually come down with Fistula after circumcision. We no longer see such cases,” she noted. Ngede said the continuous sensitisation has saved many of the women from death due to bleeding during circumcision.
Leading the men of the community in the victory dance was Chief Johnson Azuobu, Chairman of the community.
Azuobu described prevention of fistula through awareness creation as worthy of emulation. He said if well organised it has the capacity of reducing morbidity as a result of the disorder.
Augustus Ekoye who attended one of the sensitisation sessions organised by community based organisation DOVENET, said he learned the importance of couples to attend antenatal clinic during pregnancy. He said the session emphasised the need for couples to attend antenatal care together as well as seek care promptly when labour starts.
“Many people are now taking up family planning services. We were told that with adequate medical healthcare, the newborn will be bouncing in good health,” he added.
The day was opportunity to present a new case of fistula by the community. Azuobu told a team of journalists during a media roundtable on fistula prevention organised by Engenderhealth that their lives had changed for the better.
Not too far away in Ekpaomaka also in Ikwo LGA, another set of women gathered for routine health sessions on fistula. Leading the narration about their experiences on fistula, Eunice Uzoma said they had suffered in the past out of ignorance, but their lives had changed for better lately as a result of the intervention by the stakeholders – USAID, EngenderHealth, Ebonyi State Government and NGOs like DOVENENT.
According to Cecelia Nwancho “Our women have been educated on issues relating to maternal health. Our women no longer labour in the house for days. Couples now prepare before pregnancy even before the baby is born.
Pregnant women in the community now deliver in the hospital. Today, these simple steps have reduced the occurrence of Fistula in this community.” Cecilia said death rates of women during childbirth had reduced.
Ogbagu Caroline, also from the community recounted her journey through fistula after many pregnancies. She expressed gratitude her fistula had been repaired.
“I came down with fistula on my ninth pregnancy and I have now accepted family planning to avoid a repeat occurrence in future. I am grateful for the free treatment I received. My message to other women is to always go to hospital to deliver their babies,” he noted.
According to Ugo Nnachi of DOVENET: “We are witnessing positive change in behaviours in the communities across the state with the health sessions. ”
She said her organisation would take over the new case of a young woman afflicted with Fistula since 2015, identified in Oron’á Amaguduring the visit.
Clinical Associate with Fistula Care Plus, a USAID funded project on fistula managed by Engenderhealth, Dr. Suleiman Zakariya, described prevention as critical in elimination of fistula in the country. He said only when the people are informed can attituidinal change occur.