"I thought that I was cursed."
"I was tied to the dog so that the wild animals would not attack me while I slept outside."
"My heart was not at peace."
These are voices that have lingered with me -- voices of women and girls who suffer from obstetric fistula.
Obstetric fistula occurs when a pregnant women or girl has a prolonged, obstructed labor and is not able to reach a skilled birth attendant in time. The baby is too large or the birth passage is too small. Many days of labor cut off the blood supply to the mother and to the baby resulting in a stillbirth and in "holes" or a passageway between the birth canal and the excretory system. The woman has a near constant and uncontrollable leak of urine or feces.
The discomfort, and the odor that her condition causes, means she cannot carry out her day-to-day work easily, and often she is stigmatized and isolated... even by her own family.
This is preventable. The fact that women and girls still suffer from obstetric fistula is evidence that health systems are failing to provide good prenatal care, nutrition, a skilled attendant at birth and emergency obstetric care.
When people hear about obstetric fistula, they sometimes think of it as something that "is happening far away from here." But the truth is that the first surgical repair for obstetric fistula was developed in the United States in 1852 by Dr. James Simms. Women all over the country needed this surgery and Dr. Simms set up the world's first fistula hospital in New York on the current-day grounds of the Waldorf Astoria.
On this First International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, May 23, 2013, hear the voices of the women with obstetric fistula, the dedicated surgeons and the leaders who are committed to ending fistula in this generation and learn how you can help. #EndFistula
Learn more about the journeys of women affected by obstetric fistula. To learn more about Johnson & Johnson collaborations to end fistula see our JNJblog post by Conrad Person, Director, Johnson & Johnson Corporate Contributions.