Source: FrontPageAfrica
Victoria Kanu, 30, sits in front of her sewing machine turning the wheels as she puts the finishing lines to the dress of a waiting customer. She looks happy and alive as she tells FrontPageAfrica her ordeal that led her to contracting Fistula.

Victoria lived happily with her boyfriend in Zleh Town, Grand Gedeh County with their two year old baby, but suddenly one day in November 2010 they got into a fight and something terrible happened that would ruin her dignity as a human being and a woman and isolate her from her community.

"It was confusion between him and myself about money and then I packed my things and went to one of my friends after three days I went back to the house and met him there and we started fussing and he threatened to harm me," said Victoria.

"When I entered the room; I wasn't expecting it; bending down to wear my underclothes, he passed behind me and pumped me with the caustic."

Victoria is among a thousand women that the United Nations Populations Fund has provided surgery for in an effort to repair their injuries. Many women in the condition like Victoria found herself could not afford the average cost of fistula treatment and post-operative care is which is put at US $300.

Shame, shame, shame

Victoria says the diseases caused her to be isolated from many of her friends and people in the community because she became an outcast that no one wanted to associate with because of the bad smell that normally accompany the disease.

"When I was home it was hard for me to go around my friends because of the situation, the pepe and pupu business was giving me hard time," she said.

"I could not go among my friends, I used to be shamed, I was in the hospital I didn't like to come home because I used to be embarrassed."

Women are abandoned

Spending time undergoing surgery and six months in a rehabilitation center learning new things helped restored her dignity as a woman said Mama Mulbah, another Fistula survivor who was 15 and got Pregnant in Lofa County.

"I was pregnant and the people wasted time with me when I went to deliver, so when they operate on me that's how I came down with the pepe sickness," she said.

For Mama, being a teenager and pregnant while at the same time living in a community with inadequate access to healthcare services left her vulnerable to the disease.

"The people did the operation on me the child died and that's how come I came down with the pepe sickness. The pepe used to come down unknown to me, my foot used to hurt me, that how the people gave me something to be holding to walk," she tells FrontPageAfrica three years later after the incident and her slight brush with death.

"A nurse took me to Phebe in Bong County and that's how I met the UNFPA people and the nurses there helped us and the doctor came from abroad to do the operation. That is how I got cured," she said.

Mama said during her illness she was abandoned by the man who impregnated her and she was also ostracized by her community.

"My friends didn't used to come around me. They used to gossip about me and say when I sit down somewhere the area can get wet and they said plenty things about me. When I was sick the man left me only his mother used to help me," she said.

Now she feels a sense of confidence and pride as she tells FPA that her life is now improved due to the surgery and the time spent at the rehabilitation center acquiring new skills.

"Now I can do things for myself, when I go to the village and my people see me they can be happy; people who used to laugh at me now want to come near me," a tearful Mama told FPA reminiscing about the days of scorn. She praises UNFPA for giving her life back.

"UNFPA made me to be happy, I never knew how to bake, how to sew, to plait hair but I can do all those things now."

Many of the women who survived Fistula after accepting the shame and coming out for surgery, now feel a sense of independence because of the skills they have learned at the rehabilitation center.

"You see these clothes here, now now if I finish with it, the people will pay me; sometimes I charge US$10 sometimes $20. I'm getting what I want so what I looking for behind man again," said Victoria pointing to the suits she has made for customers.

"I did tailoring and hairdressing. I really benefitted from the tailoring; right now I can try to sew on my own. They gave me a phone one hundred US dollars; and the money I used it to do transfer. This is my machine and I'm doing my sewing; they gave me all the materials needed. I was in rehab for six months."

Family elated

Mr. Charles N. Worjlo I, is Uncle to Victoria and has played the role of her father since she came to Monrovia, he recalls the days of his niece's illness.

"It was in the year 2010 when they brought her from Zwedru on emergency list and brought her to here in the hospital and I work in the hospital at JFK and she was admitted there because of what the man did to her by pumping caustic soda into her," he said.

"From that time we have been struggling with her up to this time had it not been the help of the UNFPA, she would not have been alive now. She's better than before. They have done very well for her. I am very happy."

Causes of fistula

Fistula (or vaginal fistula) is a medical condition in which a fistula hole develops between either the rectum and vagina or between the bladder and vagina after severe or failed childbirth, when adequate medical care is not available.

It is considered a disease of poverty because it occurs in women in poor countries who do not have health resources comparable to developed nations.

"The smell of leaking urine, feces or both, is constant and humiliating, often driving the loved ones of patients away. If left untreated, fistula can lead to chronic medical problems including ulcerations, kidney disease, and nerve damage in the legs," states the UNFPA

The organization maintains that like maternal mortality, fistula is almost entirely preventable yet at least 2 million women in Africa, Asia and the Arab region are living with the condition with about 50,000 to 100,000 new cases each year.

"The persistence of fistula signals that health systems are failing to meet the needs of women," states the UNFPA.

The UNFPA under the theme "End the shame; end the isolation; end fistula" will on Thursday May 23, 2013 celebrates its first international day to end Obstetric fistula which occurs most often among impoverished girls and women, especially those living in regions without adequate medical services.

The UNFPA and its partners in 2003, launched the global Campaign to End Fistula, a collaborative initiative to prevent fistula and restore the health and dignity of those affected by the condition.

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