Teenage brides suffer pain and shame of fistula

Thu Aug 4, 2011 6:34am EDT
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By Katy Migiro

NAIROBI (TrustLaw) - "Nobody wants a woman who passes stools all the time and smells," whispered Farhiya Mohamed Farah, explaining why her husband divorced her when she was pregnant with their second child.

Farah, developed a hole between her vagina and rectum, causing feces to leak from her body, after giving birth to her first child at age 18 while fleeing gunfire in Somalia.

The condition, known as fistula, affects 2 million women around the world, mostly in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

Fistula was virtually eradicated in developed countries in the 19th century, following the discovery of caesarean section.

"People would ask who is making that bad smell, coughing and covering their noses. So I was always isolating myself," she said.

Too poor to buy sanitary pads, she stuffed her underwear with rags. But feces still leaked onto her clothes, forcing her to wash them several times a day. She doused herself in perfume to hide the smell.

A midwife tried to suture the hole four times, without success.

"I was thinking that the rest of my life would be like this until I died," said Farah, now 20, her birdlike frame shrouded in a red headscarf and skirt.   Continued...

<p>Farhia Mohamed Farah, a 20-year-old Somali refugee now living in Kenya, sits in the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, where she received treatment for obstetric fistulain this June 23, 2011 file photo. The condition causes incontinence and affects more than 2 million women around the world, mostly in Africa, according to World Health Organisation estimates. It occurs during childbirth when a hole develops between the vagina and bladder or rectum. Fistula disproportionately affects child brides whose bodies are not yet ready for childbirth. In Farah's case, the condition made her a social outcast for years and caused her husband to divorce her. It was only after she fled violence in Mogadishu and came to Kenya that she was able to receive free surgery to treat the problem. About 70 percent of women living with fistula never seek treatment because they do not know what is wrong with them, experts say. Farah now lives in the world's biggest refugee camp, Dadaab, in northern Kenya with her two young children. REUTERS/TRUSTLAW/Katy Migiro/Handout/Files</p>