By Chioma Umeha
Last Saturday, fortune smiled on Mrs. Nworogwu Odoh who had lived with Fistula since the Biafran war. She was among the group of women discharged from National Obstetric Fistula Centre in Abakaliki, Ebonyi, after a successful surgery. Odoh used to live as an outcast. Everybody avoided her following the foul smell of uncontrollable urination.
“I had lived with Fistula since Biafra war. Life was a living hell for me. I could not attend meetings with my fellow women as people usually shunned me each time I tried to sit close to them,” highly elated Odoh said.
Speaking in her local Ikwo dialect, amid joyful chants by other natives of Oron’a, Amagu community of Ikwo local government area of Ebonyi state, Odoh, in an air of ecstasy shouted: “Today, I am free from my pain. I am free from many years of stigma due to fistula. I am free now I can sit wherever I want to sit.
“Now, I will tie my wrapper to our women’s meeting. I am happy. I am free,” she told the gathering including journalists attending a media roundtable on fistula prevention in the state . The roundtable is organised by USAID Fistula Care Plus project managed by Engenderhealth.
It was a carnival of sort as every member of the community, young and old hailed the changing face of healthcare in Oron’a Amagu.
Fistula is an abnormal opening in the birth canal that results in chronic leakage of urine or faeces.
For women of Oron’a Amagu and many others in Ebonyi state, fistula is a raging threat.
Health workers blame this on harmful traditional practices like female circumcision, prolonged labour and delivery at home under unskilled birth attendants among others.
Mrs. Ngede Alexander said they are happy and dancing because of the new way of doing things in their community. According to her, people of Oroná Amagu no longer practice female circumcision and delivering their babies at home as a result of the health teachings they have received through the aggressive awareness campaign by EngenderHealth and partners in the State.
She said:“Before now many of the women usually come down with Fistula after circumcision. We no longer see such cases.”
Ngede said the continuous sensitisation have saved the lives of women as many of them die due to bleeding in the course of being circumcised.
Leading other men of the community in the victory dance was Chief Johnson Azuobu, Chairman of the community.
The jubilant Azuobu expressing delight that the situations in the villages are changing for the better described prevention of fistula through awareness creation as something other communities should emulate.
He said if well organised it has the capacity of reducing morbidity as a result of the disorder.
Similarly, Mr. Augustus Ekoye who said he attended one of the sensitization sessions organised by a community based organisation DOVENET, stressed on the importance of couples to attend antenatal clinic during pregnancy, being one of the things he learnt.
He said the session emphasised the need for couples to attend antenatal care together as well as seek care promptly when labour starts.
“Many people are now taking up family planning services we were told that with adequate medical healthcare, the new born child will be bouncing in good health,” he added.
The day of celebration was used as an opportunity to present a new case of fistula to DOVENET by the community.
Not too far away in Ekpaomaka also in Ikwo LGA, another group of women gathered for a routine health session on fistula. One after another, the women narrated various experiences on fistula.
At Ekpaomaka, not too far from Oron’a Amagu, also in Ikwo LGA of the State, Eunice Uzoma said they are happy because of the new way of doing things in their community.
Our lives have changed for the best since the health sessions for women of the community began.”
She also said: “Since we received the information no pregnant woman has died in our community and no woman has come down with fistula.”
She thanked Ebonyi state government, Fistula Care Plus project and USAID for organising the health sessions for women of the community
Ogbagu Caroline, another woman of the community recounted her journey through fistula after many pregnancies. She thanked God her fistula has been repaired as a result of the intervention of the group.
Caroline said: “I came down with fistula on my ninth pregnancy,” and “I have now accepted family planning to avoid a repeat occurrence in the future.”
“I am grateful for the free treatment I received. My message to other women is to always go to hospital to deliver their babies,” she noted.
Cecelia Nwancho agreed. She said amid cheers from others: “Our women have been educated on issues relating to maternal health. Our women no longer labour in the house for days. Couples now prepare before pregnancy even before the baby is born. Pregnant women in the community now deliver in the hospital. Today, these simple steps have reduced occurrence of Fistula in this community.”
Cecilia further explained that activities of the groups have reduced death of women during childbirth in the community.
Mrs. Ugo Nnachi of DOVENET a community based organisation who also conducted journalists around these communities added; “We are witnessing positive change in behaviours in the communities across the state with the health sessions. “
She promised that her organisation would take over the new case of a young woman afflicted with Fistula since 2015, identified in Oron’á Amaguduring the visit.
Clinical Associate with Fistula Care Plus, a USAID funded project on fistula managed by Engenderhealth, Dr. Suleiman Zakariya, lauded the level of awareness in the communities visited on fistula. He said prevention is critical in the elimination of fistula in the country. He said it is only when the people are informed that they can change their lifestyles that cause women to come down with fistula.
Sulaiman said fistula is preventable and treatable. He however noted that women living in rural areas like Ekpaomaka and Oron’a Amagu communities are still facing challenge of access to healthcare.