Treating Fistula through Collaboration

March 24, 2015

Located in the heart of Lubumbashi (the Democratic Republic of Congo’s second city), the Jason Sendwe Hospital is gearing up for a busy year. Operation Smile and Direct Relief have partnered with the 500-bed hospital to deliver obstetric fistula surgery to patients who would otherwise never receive treatment.

A few years ago, the operating room suite of the Sendwe Hospital was newly renovated. The overhaul was a well-intentioned gift to the community. But, due to a critical shortage of healthcare workers, Sendwe Hospital’s five state-of-the-art operating rooms remained sorely underutilized.

The magnitude of surgically treatable conditions in the region is significant. Obstetric fistula is particularly onerous: the World Health Organization has estimated that more than 2 million women have untreated obstetric fistula. One study estimates that at least 33,450 new cases of obstetric fistula occur per year in rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa (1). One of the consequences of an obstetric fistula is an unpleasant odor caused by leaking urine and feces, women with fistula may be perceived as unclean and thus forced to live in social isolation and often in psychological distress.

Obstetric fistula can be repaired with surgery. To ensure health providers have access to the essential medicines and surgical supplies needed for the specialized surgery and post-operative care, Direct Relief has donated Fistula Repair Modules containing everything needed for fistula treatment. Each surgical kit contains enough supplies for an estimated 50 surgeries. These kits were provided at no cost to Operation Smile. With a handpicked team of medical professionals and surgical equipment, Operation Smile will provide the necessary fistula repair and psychological treatment so that these Congolese women can once again enjoy a deserved life of dignity and respect.

Operation Smile looks forward to continuing its meaningful partnership with the Jason Sendwe Hospital and Direct Relief to provide more Congolese women with safe and timely access to fistula surgery.



VANGEENDERHUYSEN, D., PRUAL, A., and OULD EL JOUD, D. Obstetric fistulae: Incidence estimates for subSaharan Africa. International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics 73(1): 65-66. Apr. 2001.


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