Kenya: A Preventable Childbirth Injury That Ruins Lives

Tens of thousands of Kenyan women and girls suffer from obstetric fistula, a childbirth injury causing leakage of urine and feces, a direct result of inadequate health services and failed government policies, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 82-page report, "‘I Am Not Dead, But I Am Not Living’: Barriers to Fistula Prevention and Treatment in Kenya," describes the devastating condition facing women with fistula in Kenya and the wide gap between government’s policies to address reproductive health and the reality of women’s daily lives. It documents health system failures in five areas: education and information on reproductive and maternal health; school-based sex education; access to emergency obstetric care, including referral and transport systems; affordable maternity care and fistula repair; and health system accountability. It also documents stigma and violence many fistula sufferers face.

"Many women and girls with fistula endure lives of shame, misery, violence, and poverty," said Agnes Odhiambo, Africa women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Preventing fistula and restoring women’s health and dignity requires more than good policies on paper. Kenya needs to keep its promise of decent health care for all."

The risk of obstetric fistula often begins when young girls get pregnant or marry early, before their bodies are safely able to sustain a pregnancy. This can result in obstructed labor, and if emergency care – often a Caesarean section – is not accessible, the long labor results in destruction of vaginal tissue and causes a hole – a fistula – and incontinence. One of the factors leading to early pregnancy and childbearing is the lack of accurate information about sexuality. Human Rights Watch interviewed many girls with virtually no knowledge about reproductive processes or health.

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