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Repairing and Preventing Obstetric Fistula in Sierra Leone

At the Aberdeen Women’s Centre (AWC) in Freetown, Sierra Leone, women from around the country receive life-changing surgery to repair obstetric fistula. This year, AWC opened an emergency obstetric services department so that more women have the chance to avoid developing this devastating and eminently preventable condition.

EngenderHealth’s Fistula Care Project, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), partners with the Aberdeen Women’s Centre, where more than 1,000 fistula repairs have been performed since the partnership began in 2007. Restoring health and dignity to the women of Sierra Leone is a tall order, given that the nation’s rate of maternal mortality is among the highest in the world. Now, in addition to supporting fistula repair services (e.g., surgeries, postoperative care, nutrition, housing, and patient recruitment), Fistula Care is supporting training for nurse midwives, medical supplies, and prenatal screenings in the new maternity wing.

Increasing access to emergency obstetric care is a vital missing step to improving maternal health and preventing fistula. By current global estimates, the number of new fistula cases far outpaces the existing capacity for repairs. In Sierra Leone, Dr. Alyona Lewis, who performs fistula repair at AWC, is the only doctor in the country to do so routinely. Prevention is therefore a critical step to stemming this tide.

In the future, Fistula Care plans to support training in Sierra Leone for midwives, who will then be sent to rural areas to assist pregnant women who currently do not have access to skilled, quality care. The midwives will also help identify women living with fistula in areas too remote to have heard that there is relief at Aberdeen.

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