By Editor, Sokoto
Fatimah Buba did not get to see her son. He was taken away after his birth, out of the labour room into the morgue after which he was buried. He was a stillbirth.
His birth had been long and hard in coming. For two days, Fatimah labored to push the baby out, with the help of a community health worker who doubled as the birth attendant. When, she showed no signs of improvement, her husband gave the permission for her to be moved to the hospital in the city where her still birth baby was evacuated.
However, if Fatimah believed her troubles were over with the death of her son, very little did she know that her troubles were just beginning.
“Shortly after I returned home, sad and angry that my son was dead, I noticed something strange happening to me. I discovered I was unable to hold urine and the thing just kept coming and it was so scared and strange to me,” Fatimah said.
She was sitting on a bunk hospital bed at the Maryam Abacha Women and Children Hospital in Sokoto, same place where she had her stillborn son and where her husband and father brought her one evening when the urine leak became unbearable.
“It was a terrible time for me, I was crying every day because of the stench coming from me. In the community, people avoided me and I really cannot blame them. That was when my father decided to bring me back to this hospital,” she said.
Fatimah talks like a giggly teenage girl who had just fallen in love for the first time; however, what one cannot be sure about is if she had ever fallen in love before. At the age of 15 years, she was married off to her husband, got pregnant with her first child at 16 years and experienced her first tragedy at 17 years.
When she was admitted for the second time, she did not understand that her uncontrolled urine disease was called Vesicovaginal Fistula, a (VVF) an “abnormal opening between the bladder and the vigina that results in continuous and unremitting urinary incontinence,” according to the National Library of Medicine.
VVF: A recurring Decimal
Sarah Samaila knew nothing about sex, motherhood or reproductive health when one evening, she was taken to the house of a man who would be her husband at the age of 12. What followed were series of miscarriages until she turned 18 years when the pregnancy stayed.
Five days of prolonged labour and a stillbirth was followed quickly by VVF. “I suffered, everybody abandoned me, and nobody wanted to have anything to do with me. It was the most traumatic experience for me. Then, I was brought to the Women and Children Hospital where the doctors performed a surgery for me and cured me. Since then, I have had a new life,” Sarah said.
But the VVF trauma was nothing compared to the betrayal she felt when her husband paid her a visit at the hospital for the third time. He came with a divorce letter, told her she was useless to him now that she had the VVF and he was free to marry another woman.
“It was sad, it was bad, I didn’t know how I survived,” Sarah said and began to cry again.
According to Dr. Bello Lawal, the Chief Medical Director at the Maryam Abacha Women and Children Hospital Sokoto, VVF is largely caused by prolonged labour especially for women who got married and pregnant at a very tender age.
The hospital, which had a VVF centre, was renovated and funded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and which organizes the VVF Repair Campaign through the support of the UNFPA Spotlight Initiative to end Violence against Women and Children.
The hospital since the Spotlight Initiative campaign had been a redeeming feature for many young women in Sokoto state performing over 300 successful VVF repairs between 2019 and 2021 while it has also performed 385 Caesarean sections for Fistula survivors who got pregnant again.
“There is a linkage between Fistula and Gender Based Violence,” says Bello when he paid a visit to the fistula ward. “For instance, a woman who is in labour and the husband refused to allow her access modern medical care, this could lead to VVF and it is actually the main cause of it.
“I think we should take the campaign into the communities to let the men know that this is violence and abuse of the rights of the women. We need to end this gender based violence and end fistula in our communities,” Bello said.
Fatimah is back on her feet and into the arms of her loving husband. The Fistula Foundation of Nigeria, a group that provides empowerment for victims of the disease swung into action and trained her on rearing goats, which was also provided for her.
Sarah has also gone back to her community. Now, 22 years, she was empowered with a grinding machine and her troubles and tragedies seem far behind. More importantly, she is ready for love.
Fatimah joined other survivors to raise a fist against fistula and gender based violence. As victims themselves, they are determined to prevent other young children, from this avoidable tragedy.