July 10, 2017

Physician travels to Africa to treat women who have suffered childbirth injuries

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african mother tsAn estimated 1 million girls and women in the developing world suffer from obstetric fistula, a devastating childbirth injury caused by prolonged, obstructed labor. Holly E. Richter, M.D., J. Marion Sims Endowed Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, will travel with Andy Norman, M.D., a retired physician from Vanderbilt University, and Joseph M. Malek, M.D., a urogynecology fellow at UAB, to the Worldwide Fistula Fund’s Danja Fistula Center in Niger this summer to perform surgeries on women in sub-Saharan Africa who have suffered childbirth injuries.

“Obstetric fistula is a preventable and treatable childbirth injury,” said Richter, director of the UAB Division of Urogynecology and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery. “Treating these African girls and women, in many cases, helps them to fully recover and build new lives after childbirth injuries.”

Recently elected to the WFF Board of Directors, Richter will travel to Niger to support the overall mission of the WFF, which strategically partners with local organizations and institutions to enable African nations to better manage their women’s health care needs.

“Although preventable, these types of injuries will continue to occur until there is commitment from the governments of many of these countries to recognize and champion women’s health.”

Obstetric fistula, caused by prolonged pressure by the fetus, which cuts off blood supply to the pelvic area, leaves women incontinent and can be repaired only by surgical intervention. Women in the developing world are more likely to be in labor for long periods of time than women in developed countries — as much as two or more days, in some cases — and are more prone to having an obstetric injury, such as obstetric vesicovaginal fistula, an abnormal connection between the bladder and vagina resulting in constant urine leakage. African girls and women who suffer obstetric injuries are often rejected by their husbands and shunned by their communities, forcing them to live in isolation.

“Over the past 15 years that I have traveled to Africa to work with women with vesicovaginal fistula and other injuries of childbirth, I am heartened by the strength of these women as well as their resolve to overcome their conditions,” Richter said. “Although preventable, these types of injuries will continue to occur until there is commitment from the governments of many of these countries to recognize and champion women’s health.”

Founded in 1995, WFF provides surgery, support and vocational skills training to patients and fistula survivors. WFF promotes the safety of childbirth and injury prevention through doctor training and community health advocacy. WFF also treats women with pelvic organ prolapse, another devastating childbirth injury that results in the bulging or falling of the vaginal tissues.

 
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