The experiences of Vesico Vagina Fistula (VVF) patients are better imagined than experienced. In this report, ANKELI EMMANUEL, writes on women suffering from the condition, usually a result of prolonged labour.
The plight of 18 year old Rabiatu Haruna from Rabbah local government area of Sokoto State can better be imagined than experienced. Though she might not be the only victim of divorce, especially in the northern part of the country where divorce has turned many women into compulsory beggars, hers is a pathetic story nonetheless.
Rabiatu’s condition is so moving that one cannot help but shed tears as she recounted her pathetic experience of how she was divorced by a man who married her at the age of 14 on the discovery that she developed Vestico Vagina Fistula (VVF) after her first delivery.
VVF, which hascontinued to ravish poor women, is a subtype of female urogenital fistula (UGF) and involves an abnormal fistulous tract extending between the bladder and the vagina that allows the continuous involuntary discharge of urine into the vagina vault.
Rabiatu, who gave the name of her husband as Suleiman Lawali from Rabbah local government, disclosed that, Suleiman went ahead to marry another girl from the same community after abandoning her in the hospital.
“My baby died after the delivery and my husband simply said he is no longer interested in continuing with the marriage after discovering that I have VVF.”
When asked if she would go back to the husband when she is healed, Rabiatu said, “I have been in this hospital for three years now and I will never go back to his house because he married me when I was hale and hearty and decided to run away when I became sick, trying to deliver his own baby. If God heals me, I will never go back to the husband that divorced me when I am on a sick bed”.
Narrating her experience, another VVF patient, Rabi Bello, who is currently undergoing treatment at the Mariam Abacha Women and Children Hospital, Sokoto, said she was married off to Bello Ahmadu from Kwalangu Village of Gwadabawa local government of the state at the age of 13.
Rabi who said she gave birth after 10 years of marriage, decried her greatest pain as not only losing her baby but also having to battle VVF which erupted after the childbirth.
Narrating her ordeal, another VVF patient, 19-year-old Hawawu Jamilu, who is married to Jamilu Hasimu from Kware local government said, her baby died in her womb and was pulled out at the Sokoto Specialists Hospital, which became the genesis of her plight.
Although improving, Hawawu said her husband, Jamilu Hashimu refused coming to see her in the hospital even when he was informed that I had to go through surgical operation.
“My husband did not even come when I was operated upon and when he was called on phone to notify him, he still refused to come. And when I went home, he did not come. The last time I saw him was during the last fasting period. That is about eight months ago now. And I don’t even have his number again because I have spent almost a year in this hospital and he has not called me.”
On what the action of the husband signifies, Hawawu said, “It is an indication that he is no longer interested in the marriage and simply used my condition as excuse to end the marriage.”
When asked about her psychological disposition to the attitude of the husband, Hawawu said, “I leave everything to Allah and even if I recover, I will never go back into that marriage. I have stayed in this hospital for months now and he has never come to see how I’m faring.”
The case of Hawawu is just one of the many women suffering from VVF globally, especially in developing countries, including Nigeria.
A visit to the Mariam Abacha Women and Children Hospital, Sokoto and the frightening number of women who spent months, even years for VVF treatment, will give one a clearer picture of the pains some women go through.
Probably aware of these pains and the inability of many VVF patients to afford the financial wherewithal for treatment, a non-governmental organisation, (NGO), Fistula Foundation Nigeria, with the assistance of the Australian government, recently came to Sokoto to sponsor the surgical operations of 100 VVF patients.
The project coordinator of the NGO, Galadima Muhammad, advocated individual sacrifice to compliment the effort of the government to achieve the desired healthy nation.
“The government is trying its best, but we need to complement their effort. We have discovered that there is a huge gap in the maternal health where you see thousands of girls out there in the hospital waiting for operations. We were in Sokoto sometimes last year, we saw over 300 VVF patients and the number is increasing. We wanted to do the operations but had to put it off from January because of the strike action by health workers then.
“But right now, 20 of the VVF patients have been operated upon successfully and we hope to carry out more operations on 100 patients,” Galadima said.
Galadima debunked the much held belief that early marriage was largely responsible for VVF, saying, it went beyond that.
“Basically, two things are directly responsible; ignorance – lack of girl-child education, lack of parent awareness and secondly, poverty. Sometimes, antenatal services are free but some people have to pay transportation from the villages to the cities. I saw a woman who told me that she had to spend N2,000 from her village to the hospital, whereas most of them cannot even afford N100 or N200 and you are telling them to go to hospital because she needs safe delivery. And when she gets to the hospital, some things are not free. So where will she get the money?
“And when you talk about malnutrition, sometimes these women cannot afford three square meals and when the woman is not well nourished, the baby in her womb will not be well nourished as well. And during delivery, if the mother is not strong enough to push, the baby is gravely at risk. With prolonged labour, fistula might occur.”
Talking on the variation of VVF between the north and the southern part of Nigeria, Galadima said, the level of education in the south, coupled with exposure could directly be responsible for the low rate of VVF in that region compared to the north where both ignorance and cultural beliefs, among others, hinder them from going to the hospital.
While calling on wealthy individuals to come to the aid of VVF patients, Galadima said, the Australian government has been assisting in the operation of 50 VVF patients yearly since 2009 but has to increase the number to 100 this year.