Obstetric Fistula Repair

Sister-Doctor Ann Ward at Itam, Southeast Nigeria

Obstetric fistula (vesico-vaginal fistula or VVF) develops from prolonged and obstructed labour. Usually the infant is dead upon delivery, and the mother is left with severe internal damage, leaving her incontinent, in acute pain, and with great difficulty in walking.

The skilled surgery to correct this problem requires very long apprenticeship. Sister Ann Ward is an MMM obstetrician who has spent over 40 years in Nigeria, where she established a specialist centre at Itam known as the Family Life Centre. Her pioneering work in corrective surgery for this problem has been internationally acclaimed. In 2008 Sister Ann retired to the MMM Motherhouse, leaving the unit at Itam in the care of another MMM surgeon, Sister Mary Molloy (left).

Added to the medical problems the woman with an obstetric fistula faces terrible stigma and ostracism: because of the smell and the fact that she has no living child and is not very likely to be able to have a child. In communities where women's rights are not properly valued, she can even be driven from her home or her village.

In Uganda in 2005, a new unit dedicated to treating women suffering from VVF was blessed and opened at Kitovu Hospital. Sister-Doctor Maura Lynch (right) is an MMM surgeon working there with the local Sisters who took over the hospital management from MMM a few years ago.

Kitovu Hospital has been adopted as the main training centre for Ugandan surgeons in the field of obstetric fistula. This work benefits greatly from the partnership of UK specialists like John Kelly of Birmingham, and Brian Hancock, founder of a UK charity called the Uganda Childbirth Injuries Fund.