Vagina Fistula: UNFPA, Korea helping “abandoned” Nigerian women get a second chance at marriage after free surgery

MAIDUGURI: In Northeast Nigeria, women did not only form the majority of the internally displaced populations affected by the years of armed conflict, but they also have lost their dignity and even their marriages because of Vesicovaginal Fistula (VVF. 

Hundred of women in Borno state suffer the scourge of Vesicovaginal fistula (VVF), an ailment that has to do with the continuous and uncontrolled discharge of urine due to the damage of the urinary tract in women.  

Medical experts describe fistula or VVF as an abnormal extension track, extending between the bladder (vesica) and vagina, which often allows the continuous, uncontrolled and involuntary discharge of urine into the vagina vault.

Medical experts have factored in early marriage and obstructed labour as the most common causes of fo VVF. 

Women and girls with this disability are often abandoned by their husbands and isolated from the community due to the smell and associated shame of the urine leakage. 

To reverse this trend that left thousands of females in depressed condition and trauma, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFP) had in collaboration with the Borno state ministry of health to embark on a massive “repair” programme for women and girls with the leaking bladder. 

Borno State Director of Medical Emergencies and Humanitarian Response, Dr Babashehu Mohammed told journalists the fistula repair program started in 2018 when the UNFP collaborated with the state under a programme funded by the government of Tokyo. 

Dr Babashehu revealed this at the flagging of a two-weeks Pool Fistula campaign organised in collaboration with the UNFP. 

“Over 100 women from various parts of Borno state and the northeast, in general, have been targeted to under surgical operations that lead to the repair of their ruptured urinary system. 

The Korean International Co-operation Agency (KOICA) funded the programme, under the coordination of UNFPA.

This programme “is aimed at fostering resilience and provision of basic medical service among women and girls in the state. 

The KOICA funded programme was also designed to “increase access to comprehensive medical and child health care among others,” the Director said. 

UN Humanitarian Coordinatior, Edward Kallon, (2nd left) and other officials at the VVF Centre

Edward Kallon Commends UNFPA, the Borno government 

The high point of the event was the visit and official flag-off of the program by the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, who commended the efforts of the UNFPA and officials of the Borno state ministry of health for the “repairs and rehabilitation of women with Vesicovaginal Fistula (VVF)”  

Speaking at the ward where some 27 newly repaired VVF survivors recovering, Mr Kallon said the VVF survivors repair would also add impetus to the resettlement of internally displaced Persons UNFPA, and also would restore hope to the women.

‘What we are trying to do is to bring back hope to these women. We are not leaving them behind. We are trying to make them members of the society,’ Kallon said.

‘I hope that at the end of the day, we can make them an integral part of society with this kind of support.’

He added that “Nigeria alone accounts for over 150,000 fistula patients based on currently available statistics.” 

‘The campaign being launched today is very critical especially increase in access to productive health services, ante-natal services, deliver and post-natal services, optic or family planning, child harmful traditional practices.’ 

The medical director of the Borno State Specialist Hospital, Dr Laraba Hassan, said the new surgical ward and theatre where the VVF patients were being treated was built by the KOICA through the facilitation of the UNFPA. 

She said one of the successes recorded in the repair and restoration of VVF survivors dignity is the reunification of some of the women with their husbands who had earlier abandoned or divorced them. 

One of the survivors, a 27 years old woman, whose name is being protected to safeguard her dignity, said “I am happy that I can now live the normal life that I am used to before this ailment came to me. I am also happy that my former husband has agreed to take me back. I thank the UN people and the doctors here in the hospital for being so kind to us,” 

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