VVF (Vesicovaginal Fistula) is a condition that occurs when there is an abnormal tract extending between the bladder and the vagina that allows the continuous involuntary discharge of urine into the vaginal vault.
The earliest evidence of VVF was found in 1923 on the mummified body of Queen Henhenit (2050 BC). So this is nothing new. This condition has been eradicated in virtually every country except in some African countries including Nigeria.
I first learned about VVF while studying for my law degree. One of my favourite courses was "Sex and Gender in the Legal Process" which was taught by the fabulous renowned Dr Susan Edwards - she actually wrote THE book that was assigned course reading. I was horrified and saddened but quickly forgot all about it in those years of parting and fun.
A few years ago, while watching The Oprah Winfrey Show, tribute was paid to an "angel" - Dr Catherine Hamlin who with her late husband dedicated over 50 years of her life to the young sufferers of VVF disorder in Ethiopia. I could not be still. I threw myself into finding out as much information as i could about this condition and knew that i wanted to help in some way. I satisfied myself somewhat with regular cash contributions to The Fistula Trust - her organization.
When i moved home, while going through a magazine, i came across an article that tugged at my heart strings. Here in Nigeria, the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital has taken an active role in treating sufferers of the VVF disorder. In that article, i read that the financial cost of repairing a fistula is N1,500 for a minor case and can go up to N5,000 for a more serious case. I thought that sounded easy enough.
So i called the number at the end of the article and spoke the media officer of the hospital. I was stunned when she told me that majority of the women that came to the hospital were unable to raise this sum - the equivalent of $10 - $35. That's money that i can play with on a daily basis taking care of airtime, petrol, lunch - silly stuff in comparison to this.
She told me about the emotional trauma suffered by these young women (some as young as 11). Women forced into early marriages with men old enough to be their fathers. The loss of the babies since their young hips are not ripe for childbearing - the ensuing trauma of labor is too much for the infants and most are born stillborn. These women now have to bury their babies and face the humiliation of carrying a catheter bab (for the lucky ones), dealing with the ensuing odour which leads to banishment from the family hut/compund. The husbands return these women to their families who turn around and abandon them for ruining the family name and bringing shame to them. It goes on and on.
The lucky ones find their way to ABUTH, the others resign themselves to a life of ostracization and humiliation in a solitary hut away from friends and family. Condemned to be branded as outcasts. ABUTH doesnt only fix their physical wounds. Before each woman leaves the hospital, she gets a brand new set of clothes and slippers. To signify a fresh start and help them walk out of the hospital with their heads held high.
Needless to say, i am doing what i can to pay for the treatment of some of these young women as often as i can. As i write each check, i am reminded of how lucky i am. How lucky my sisters are. To have enlightenment, education, exposure, the means to help these women.
Contributions can be made to The Fistula Trust. I have found out that there are other organizations dedicated to VVF which pleases me to no end. This is another interesting article on the subject with special attention paid to Nigeria.
Here's to the young women who have to endure this, those who have had their wounds repaired. The battle for self esteem, confidence and the gradual induction back to their communities will perhaps prove to be harder to accomplish than the minor surgical procedure that "fixed" them.