New Life for Women in Liberia
By Michelle Scott*
August 5, 2008—In much of the developing world child birth is fraught with danger. In sub-Saharan Africa 1 in 22 women will die giving birth. But bringing a new life into the world can not only kill, it can also maim a woman for life.
Thousands upon thousands of women have suffered a lifetime of shame and have been ostracized because of an injury called a "fistula" that sometimes occurs during prolonged labor. A fistula occurs during birth when the blood supply to a part of the womb is cut off long enough for tissue to die. Depending on the size and location of the fistula, a woman can leak urine and sometimes feces constantly, unless the wound is surgically closed.
Dr. Andy Norman of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Nashville, Tennessee, recently led a volunteer medical team to change this reality for women throughout the area surrounding Ganta United Methodist Hospital in Liberia. During their visit to Ganta, the team of three surgeons operated on 42 women with fistulas in an effort to give them a new life.
Life on the Fringes
A woman with a fistula faces a lifetime of ostracism and ridicule because of her condition. "When you have this problem, you have no relatives, no husband, no friends; you are neglected by society. People insult you," said Tories, one of the women treated by the team.
Like the woman with the issue of blood who touched Jesus' robe for healing, these women were also abandoned—some for decades. One woman who was treated in the recent visit had been suffering for more than 30 years. The compassionate healing of these surgeons restored hope and a community to women who had lost both.
Though the surgery can repair the problem for most women, access to a surgeon and funds to pay for the operation are typically out of reach for these women.
A Golden Opportunity
The Vanderbilt Fistula Program provided the women with free surgical treatment, food and lodging during their recovery, thus greatly reducing their financial burden. The women traveled great distances, one woman came from neighboring Guinea, to receive treatment.
Prior to the team's arrival, radio announcements let women know for miles around about the fistula repair program. "...We would like to encourage all our sisters and mothers in and around Liberia who are in this distressful condition to make use of this golden opportunity," the announcement said.
There were many who could not be seen by the surgeons during this initial visit and so the team plans to return to Ganta Hospital in four to six months to treat the remaining women.
A $500,000 grant from Christian Blind Mission that was facilitated by Global Ministries' missionary Dr. Albert Willicor will ensure that an ongoing fistula repair ministry continues. This grant allows Dr. Willicor to perform 10-15 fistula repairs each month at Ganta Hospital.
"The Vanderbilt team gave a boost to the program that is already helping a dozen or so women each month," said Dr. Cherian Thomas, Global Ministries' Health and Welfare executive.
About Ganta Hospital
Ganta United Methodist Hospital is a major health center in Nimba County that serves a community of 450,000 people. Ganta Hospital offers a wide range of primary and preventative healthcare services including, general medicine, basic surgery, ophthalmology, pediatrics, malaria and leprosy treatment, women's health and HIV/AIDS testing and treatment.
The hospital staff works not only to treat and serve hospital patients, but also to educate and care for the entire community. They overcame incredible post-war challenges to resurrect the hospital and once again provide the quality care the people of Liberia need.
How You Can Help
You can contribute to this effort through UMCOR Advance #982168 - Hospital Revitalization Program, Ganta. One fistula repair costs $150.
* Michelle Scott is the communications director of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).