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Dame Penelope Wilton speaks out on International Day to End Obstetric Fistula

Posted on: Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Actress Dame Penelope Wilton has spoken out about the need to tackle obstetric fistula and expressed her support for CBM’s work treating women with the condition.

Speaking ahead of International Day to End Obstetric Fistula on May 23, CBM supporter Penelope Wilton, well-known for stage, TV and film roles including  Downton Abbey, The BFG and most recently The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, said:

“The birth of a new baby should be a time of joy. But for too many women in poorer countries, childbirth leads to serious injuries like fistula, with devastating consequences on their lives. After the trauma of difficult labour, and sometimes the desperate sadness of losing a baby, fistula leaves women incontinent and at risk of infection. Constantly leaking urine or faeces, many women become isolated, abandoned by their husbands or others around them.

It’s shocking and completely wrong that 2 million women are living with fistula worldwide, some for decades, especially given that in nearly all cases it can be treated. That’s why I’m speaking out to help raise awareness. CBM is doing vital work to help women get treatment for fistula and rebuild their lives. I’m supporting them today and I hope you will too.”

An estimated 2 million women in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa currently live with fistula. This devastating condition usually affects women after a prolonged childbirth without specialist care.  Many are rejected by their husbands and ostracised from their communities due to the condition, which leaves them incontinent. As a result, many are left in desperate poverty, unable to work and isolated.

In countries like Tanzania, East Africa, women often live with fistula for decades, unaware that nearly all cases can be treated with straightforward surgery.

CBM’s project in Tanzania has a specialised programme for women living with fistula. It not only provides essential surgical treatment and rehabilitation for women with fistula, but also helps to raise awareness of the condition, funding Community Health Workers who locate women with fistula around the country and help them access  treatment.  The costs of transport to hospital, surgery and rehabilitation – so often a barrier for women living in poverty – are also covered by the project.

18-year-old Merina lost her baby during childbirth and was left incontinent from fistula.

“All my former joy had disappeared. Who was I? A woman? I couldn’t do anything, I lost urine and I smelled bad. I was so ashamed. I had lost my baby. In those days I didn’t have any hope … I didn’t want to see anyone, I retreated from everyday life”.

Fortunately, Merina was referred to CBM’s partner hospital, where she was given free corrective surgery. She was relieved to meet other women who suffered too; she thought that she was the only person living with the condition.

Since having corrective surgery, Merina’s life has been transformed:

Merina smiling

“I am healthy again, I’m the way I used to be. I am so grateful. I want to work on the field again, grow beans and maize. I thought that I could never ever do that again. I want to be able to help other women, just like I was helped. And I have another wish,” Merina says with a smile. “I’d like to have two healthy children with my husband. Because it must be wonderful to have children …”

Images: Top – Dame Penelope Wilton. Bottom – Merina has had corrective surgery for fistula at CBM’s partner hospital in Tanzania.