Women in Burundi still suffer from the “backyard disease”

February 16, 2013

Women in Burundi still suffer from the “backyard disease” © Martina Bacigalupo

Médecins Sans Frontières marks the 1,000th operation performed to correct obstetric fistula in Gitega, Burundi but is concerned about the future of its project.

Launched in July 2010, the Urumuri Center in Gitega is a joint effort of the Ministry and Health and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). One thousand operations have already been performed there, enabling women to return to normal life and emerge from exclusion. Obstetric fistula often leads to urinary and/or fecal incontinence, which leads to social isolation.

Although approximately 1,200 women develop obstetric fistula in Burundi every year, MSF’s Urumuri Center is still the only facility in the country that provides comprehensive, free treatment to women with simple or complex fistulas. The surgeons who perform the procedure are expatriates who volunteer with the non-profit organization.

“While we are delighted to have been able to treat so many women and allow them to recover their dignity, we are also concerned about the future,” says Bavo Christiaens, MSF’s head of mission in Burundi. “Despite our repeated requests to health authorities, we have not been able to train a single physician to operate on fistulas. We are thus launching a new appeal to our partners to take advantage of the unique opportunity that the Urumuri Center offers to train Burundi doctors in this procedure.”

MSF fears that the Urumuri Center will close when the program is turned over to the country’s authorities.  “MSF provides temporary support and our goal is to turn our activities over to local health authorities. Sharing our expertise and providing training is an integral part of our commitment here in Burundi,” Christiaens notes.  

MSF has been working in Burundi since 1993 and currently manages three projects, two of which focus exclusively on maternal health. 

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