As at the end of October, 2011, Nigeria had about 400,000 – 800,000 women living with Vestico Vaginal Fistula (VVF), with about 20,000 new cases occurring annually. 90 per cent of these have remained largely untreated. The above figures ironically place Nigeria highest on the VVF prevalence ladder in the world. Lamenting the high prevalence of the disease in the country, the first lady of Gombe State, Hajiya Adama Dankwambo recently took practical steps toward curbing the scourge in the state. Yau waziri in this report take a look at her efforts.
Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) or Recto vaginal fistula (RVF) are holes resulting from the breakdown in the tissue between the vaginal wall and the bladder or rectum caused by unrelieved obstructed labour. Over the years, Gombe state has remained one of the states in the federation where the number of women living with VVF is high, especially in the rural areas where majority of the infected persons are indigent and cannot afford medical treatment.
Women with VVF have overtime been treated like outcasts by society especially in the rural areas due to the nature of their condition which gives off a foul-smelling vaginal discharge.
Over the years accessing qualitative healthcare for women with VVF in Gombe State has remained a challenge as the surgery to correct the defect is very expensive and patients in Gombe State travel as far as to Jos, Plateau State, to get elusive medical treatment.
Women suffering from VVF experience stigmatisation and untold health challenges. Most of them are abandoned by their husbands, families and friends, leaving them to bear the agony of VVF alone. In some cases, the women are even chased out of their community. Many a time the patients suffering from VVF are fed with all sorts of tales and misconceptions about their condition. Some are even told they cannot survive it due to the prohibitive cost of fistula treatment.
This was the case of Maryam Hassan Bajoga, a 17-year-old woman who had complications during child birth which later resulted to VVF. Maryam faced untold physical and social problems due to the constant and uncontrollable leakage of urine or faeces and the accompanying foul-smell; her community considered her an outcast and she was subsequently ustracised.
Maryam however, moved in with a relative in another village. While she was with her aunty Goggo she resorted to the use of traditional medicine to cure her ailment. Maryam visited more than fifteen herbalists in her bid to find cure for her ailment oblivious of the fact that her condition can be corrected through a surgical operation in a tertiary health institution.
Fate took a different turn for Maryam when a new health project scheme which offers free treatment for women with VVF was initiated by the First lady of Gombe State, Hajia Adama Dankwambo. Maryam who has already lost hope of getting well was lucky to be among the first 50 people to benefit from the exercise. Two weeks after a successful repair operation, she got her life back.
Fatima Garuba is another lucky patient who benefitted from the Gombe state first lady’s health project. In a chat with LEADERSHIP SUNDAY disclosed that she had already given up any hope of being treated, as the treatment was neither affordable nor accessible to most of the patients afflicted with VVF. According to her:
“We had already zeroed our minds on never being able to receive treatment, because, even if we had found the treatment for VVF, we would not have been able to afford the expensive treatment. So we are really grateful for the programme initiated by the first lady. It will greatly help us because we have really suffered”.
The initiation of the Health Assisted Project by the wife of Gombe State Governor, Hajiya Adama Dankwambo was a dream come true to the women with VVF in Gombe State.
The scheme is aimed at assisting women suffering from VVF in the State by offering them free treatment and surgery. A total of 50 women from across the state form the first batch of beneficiaries under the scheme.
The special assistant to the first lady on special duties in a statement made available to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, pointed out that VVF has caused untold challenges to women especially those in the rural areas: “VVF is a disease women have suffered over the years especially in the rural areas and this programme is to give VVF treatment free of charge to about 50 women drawn from the eleven local Governments of Gombe State”.
He further disclosed that the project was partnering with the media such as television and radio as well as traditional and religious rulers to sensitise the people about the programme.
“The programme will continue even after these first 50 people would have been treated”, he said.
“We are starting with 50 women, when we conclude with them another 50 women are expected to join the programme with this in place, in the next few years there won’t be and VVF case in the state”.
Also, Dr. Saad Idris, a fistula surgeon in a chat with LEADERSHIP SUNDAY commended the state governor’s wife and people of the state for their passion and interest in curbing VVF prevalence in the state.
“VVF is a very dangerous disease faced by women, the first lady has been doing very good work for the women with VVF. Most of them cannot afford the treatment but Hajiya Dankwambo has made the treatment free for them. This is great”, he said.