John Adams, Minna
It was a huge relief for the over 50 Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) patients in Niger State recently. They benefited from free surgical operation by RAise Foundation, a pet project of the wife of the governor, Dr. Amina Sani Bello.
This brings to 226, the number of free VVF surgical operations the foundation offered to those women affected by the disease in the 25 local government areas.
Northern Nigeria has a disproportionate amount of VVF cases with over 85 per cent of these figures. Niger State, according to statistics, accounts for 10 per cent. One in every 10 women in the state is said to be suffering from the disease.
Nigeria has the highest prevalence rate of VVF in the world with an alleged number of between 400,000 and 800,000 women living with this scourge. There are anywhere between 12,000 and 20,000 new cases occurring annually, with 90 per cent remaining untreated. The implication of this is that an average of 55 women are infected by VVF on a daily basis and it is conservatively estimated that two million women suffer from obstetric fistula globally.
Aisha Abdullah, 20-year-old girl from Rijau Local Government is among the recent beneficiaries of the RAise Foundation free VVF surgery. She was barely 15 years old when she was given out in marriage to her former husband who later divorce her and married another wife after she was diagnosed of the disease three years ago.
She returned to her family and ever since then, she remained isolated from the public with all her hope of undergoing treatment dashed for lack of money until RAise came to her rescue.
Aisha spoke in Hausa with our correspondent: “My husband told me that I should go to my parents because he could not cope with my condition. He told me that he wanted to marry another wife and that he doesn’t have money to keep the two of us.”
Another beneficiary of the free surgical operation, Mamuna Mohammed, was lucky to be kept by her husband despite living with the disease for seven years before RAise intervened. The 25-year-old Mamuna was diagnosed of the disease seven years ago at the age of 18 after giving birth to her first child who later died due to complications at birth. She went from one hospital to another but could not afford money for the operation.
However, Mamuna could not conceive due to the disease and this forced her husband to marry a second wife but she can heave a sigh of relief following her surgical operation.
Very pathetic was the testimony of 50-year-old Jummai Salihu who has lived with disease for 20 years before “manner came from heaven.” She developed the VVF after her second baby and because of her poor background and that of the husband she could not seek for a better in terms of operation.
Her husband, however, terminated the marriage when he could not afford the money for surgery to correct the leakage, abandoning her and her two children.
Life, she said, has been meaningless for her. She felt abandoned by her family and the larger society. She said though help is coming to her at 50, to her “it is better late than never.”
Mrs Bello said: “To make the intervention easier for my foundation, we decided to approach a number of organizations and organizations who agreed to collaborate with RAise Foundation to reach out to as many as possible with free surgical operations.”
She said 117 surgeries were carried out in collaboration with Islamic Medical Association of Nigeria (IMAN), 49 in collaboration with Sani Bello Foundation and 30 in partner with Bridge Wise Foundation.
Others included 10 free surgical operations in partnership with Society of Gynecologists and Obestrician of Nigeria (SOGON) and 20 free surgical operations with the Mainstream Foundation. Bello disclosed that her foundation has taken over the abandoned Federal Government Comprehensive Health Center in Rafin Gora to serve as a referral VVF Center for the Middle Belt.
Amina, a consultant surgeon, disclosed that a significant percentage of VVF is caused by prolonged unattended obstructed labour which occurs “when the blood supply to the tissues of the vagina and the bladder is restricted during prolonged obstructed labour, the tissues die between these organs, forming holes through which urine can pass uncontrollably.”
Other major causes include sex with minors and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): “This accounts for 75 per cent of loss of babies at birth and is responsible for 55 to 60 per cent of the divorce rate in the country.”
She regretted that in Nigeria, VVF has social, economic, and religious implications as women with VVF are regarded as social outcasts and marriages have been dissolved as a result of this:
“Many girls between the ages of 11 and 15 in the Islamic Northern part of the country become mothers either through early marriage or through unwanted pregnancy.
“As a result of the less than advanced stage of their reproductive system they experience obstructed labour, and this is further worsened by the ineptitude of some unskilled birth attendants who tend to simply cut through the vagina in a bid to create a passage for the baby.”