From Obstetric Fistula Survivor to Empowered Citizen
Alain Kaboré is Program Officer with FCI-Burkina Faso, based at our office in Ouagadougou, whose previous blogs on this obstetric fistula project can be read here and here. This article is cross-posted from the blog of the Frontline Health Workers Coalition.
“Today,” Mariama Boubacar Diallo says, “Thank God, I no longer suffer. I’m healthy; I am healed.” Mariama, a resident of the village of Kriollo Ourarsaba, located in the northern Sahel region of Burkina Faso, reflects on her recent surgery to repair the obstetric fistula she developed while giving birth to her third child four years ago.
Obstetric fistula, an injury to the birth canal resulting from an obstructed or prolonged birth, causes long-term, physical pain. Mariama, like many women suffering fistula, also experienced emotional distress from losing the respect of her family and community.
Burkina Faso, a land-locked West African country, struggles against chronic poverty like many of its neighbors in the Sahel, the southern band of the Sahara Desert that stretches across the width of the African continent. Most recently, Burkina Faso has been working to overcome the severe food shortage that has plagued the region since 2011.
Recognizing the urgency of the food security crisis, USAID has reserved more than $56.5 million to fund projects working in areas of agriculture, livelihoods, health and water, sanitation and hygiene in the region. To counteract the food security crisis and mobilize productive members of society, policymakers should address the unnecessary loss of life that occurs when mothers suffer or die from preventable pregnancy and childbirth complications. Frontline health workers are a key part of the solution, both for preventing fistula from occurring and for ensuring that survivors receive the treatment they need.
Through our programs in Burkina Faso and around the developing world, Family Care International (FCI) has worked to raise awareness of the causes of and treatment for obstetric fistula. FCI-Burkina Faso, with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), has worked with communities and partner organizations in the Sahel region to prevent fistula by improving access to and utilization of emergency obstetric care, which is provided by midwives and doctors in health centers and hospitals that are too often inaccessible to women in rural villages.
In order to get these women to the urgent care they need, FCI and our partners have helped more than 700 villages establish emergency procedures for transporting pregnant women to the nearest health clinic when faced with life-threatening complications. We have also trained hundreds of community health and outreach workers to visit people in their communities, hold meetings to raise awareness of pregnancy complications and their treatment, and bring fistula survivors out from isolation so they can reclaim their lives. Mariama is one of those brave women who, thanks to the tenacity and commitment of frontline health workers, has triumphed over her injury and succeeded in becoming a leader in her community.
Although Mariama wasn’t rejected by her husband when she suffered from obstetric fistula, her in-laws blamed and abused her. A community outreach worker affiliated with an FCI partner found Mariama and helped her arrange surgery in a hospital in the regional capital, Dori. In the months after her surgery, she received training in modern methods of raising cattle and sheep, the primary economic activity in many parts of the Sahel.
At the end of 2010, Mariama received a grant of 100,000 CFA francs (about $200) to purchase a ram and a ewe, along with some feed, in order to establish her own breeding business. Mariama now owns four head of cattle, making her one of the village’s most prosperous and successful citizens, and she generously shares her new agricultural knowledge with her neighbors. She is fully included in baptisms, weddings, and other social events of the village — something that was inconceivable only a year ago — and has fully reunited with her in-laws. “Today,” she says, “thanks to this program, my in-law family has truly accepted me.”
Policymakers must come to better understand the impact of frontline health workers, with the resources and the know-how to empower women and get them to the care they need , on the lives of women like Mariama.