Men as Partners in the Fight to End Fistula in Nigeria

By: Eberechukwu Diokpo, Project Officer at EngenderHealth Nigeria and Nafisa Murtala Ahmed, Presenter at Express Radio Kano

For Rukayya, a young fistula client, a phone-in radio program was life changing.

The live radio program was hosted on Express FM in Kano and focused on fistula prevention and treatment. Dr. Habib Sadauki, the Country Project Manager for the USAID-funded Fistula Care Plus project at EngenderHealth was a guest speaker on the show.

According to Rakuyya’s husband Abubakar, before the radio program he knew nothing about fistula – including that it is preventable or that it can be treated. “When I heard what the doctor was saying on the radio I called into the program and told them that my wife had been leaking urine since her delivery, the kind of thing they were talking about on the program and he told me to bring my wife to see him after the program. Thank God I did.” 

Abukakar and Rukayya were married at a young age. She became pregnant the following year, and went into labor in July 2015. According to Abubakar, Rukayya was rushed to Nuhu Bamalli Hospital in Kano, where she stayed for a full day without delivering. After the first day, hospital staff advised him to take his wife to nearby Murtala Mohammed Specialist Hospital (MMSH) as there was no doctor to attend to her.

By the time she arrived at the MMSH, Rukayya was unconscious. After two days of obstructed labor, Rukayya delivered a stillborn baby. Damage to her urinary wall occurred during the long labor, creating a hole known as a fistula and making her unable to control her urine flow.

Dr. Sadauki also points out the importance of fistula clients having support from their husbands and families. Many clients are abandoned by their husbands, who do not understand their condition or know that there is treatment. Dr. Sadauki said, “This also emphasizes the need to increase the number of outreach programs to teach the people the right care-seeking behaviours when fistula occurs, and where they can find treatment – especially as it is free at all the sites supported by Fistula Care Plus in Nigeria.”

Abubakar and Rukayya recently shared their family’s story at an interactive session of a network of fistula service providers and policy makers in Abuja, stating that since that radio program, Rukayya has had two attempted fistula repair surgeries. Her fistula is complex, meaning that repair is difficult. Her husband is hopeful that one day she will find complete relief, especially considering that the capacity of fistula surgeons in Nigeria to repair complex fistula is growing with support from programs like Fistula Care Plus.

Until that day comes, Abubakar has vowed to join in the effort to inform people about obstetric fistula and the need for husbands to stand by their wives throughout their treatment journey. Abubakar has participated in two radio discussions, sharing his experience as a husband of a fistula client to educate other men about fistula prevention, availability of services, and the importance supporting women to seek reproductive and maternal health care.

“I married her when she was okay and fine, now I can’t just abandon her because she has this fistula problem,” Abubakar said at the interactive session in Abuja.