By Bell Pere
Fistula a shunned yet curable illness has been a burden to many women in Narok County. It is estimated that one woman out of three in Narok County suffers fistula. This is according to Narok County director of health, Dr. Francis Kiio. Fistula is a medical condition where prolonged or obstructed labour causes injury, leaving a woman without control of urine and stool discharge.
Ruth Nasieku, a survivor, recounts how fistula almost destroyed her life. She was only 15 years old when she was married off in the remote Ildamatarea Narok North Sub County. A birth complication led to her contracting the ailment.
According to Nasieku, being in the dark, she thought that it was a usual condition that women went through during giving birth and that her and condition could heal eventually.
Close friends started giving excuses for not visiting and then relatives and before she realized it her newlywed husband was constantly complaining of a smelly house.
“My marriage started taking a nose dive and being so young I had nowhere else to go but persevere,” she explained.
Her husband on the other hand could not take it much longer and left for another wife. Depression kicked in from facing stigmatization from the society.
Her rescue came from a neighbor who had just come from town with news that the government was looking for women with her type of condition.
Nasieku borrowed money and left for Narok County Referral Hospital where she underwent corrective surgery.
Her husband on learning she had recovered came back home and now they are blessed with three other children.
For Mery Masikonte she has had fistula for eight painful years and her journey to recovery was not that smooth. After dropping out of school and getting married off by parents at age 17 years, Mercy got pregnant in no time but had a difficult delivery that almost killed her and the infant.
Her child was quite big for her body to deliver smoothly and three mid wives had to intervene in her prolonged labour.
The midwives were equally in the dark about her condition.
“I remember one lady from the village and a friend of my mother saying I would recover smoothly after my ordeal,” she said.
She only lived with her husband for three months after which she was taken back home. Her hasband stated that he could no longer bring friends at home due to foul smell.
Masikonte hid herself from people and did not leave home for the eight years, nor did she go to any family or friends gathering in the village.
Only her illiterate parents consoled about her condition. She also did not bother getting any form of employment for fear of humiliation.
“I did not bother getting any work I did not want to face humiliation, a grownup who could not hold it, so I opted tilling my parents’ shamba for food,” she added.
She recounted one humiliating day how two six year old girls had visited home and innocently asked her mother why the house had a funny smell.She had to leave the house for a quick embarrassing shower.
Her agonizing journey of fistula came to a close at the age of 25 when her father had gone to town for a land broker deal at the lands office. A fistula campaign was ongoing in Narok, missionary doctors had visited the town from Nairobi with the Good News of a cure for people with her condition.
“I remember my father coming home that late evening and called out for me to prepare myself early in the morning and leave for town straight to Narok Hospital where I was treated,” she proudly says.
Ruth and Mercy are just but among the very few women that managed to seek medical attention in the vast Narok County with hundreds of women still hiding in the villages.
It is estimated that 52,000 women give birth in Narok County Every year and out of these 200 hundred suffer from fistula
Speaking at the launch of free fistula repair surgery at the Narok county referral hospital in Narok North sub-county the chief guest, Mrs Sarah Tunai said that the Fstula Centre will bring relief to the countless women in the county who have had to endure visiting the neighboring counties like Kisii which are far away to access the service.
“With only ten fistula specialist doctors in Kenya, I am proud that our county now boast the presence of one specialist who will go a long way in treating our women, “she added.
According to Mrs. Tunai the most affected lot are young girls who are at high risk of getting fistula since majority are victims of early marriages.
Her sentiments were echoed by the CECM for Health Madam Sereti Ole-Mbeti who attributes the condition to female genital mutilation(FGM),
“I urge all women to go to clinics and give birth in hospitals so that we can protect our dignity while shunning traditional midwives at home,” she said.
The ministry has also experienced challenges in its fight against fistula as health facilities are situated far from the affected women and cultural beliefs by Maasai men who do not allow their women to visit the hospitals.