Fistula is not just a physical injury—it is a devastating condition that may create physical, psychological, economic, and social obstacles for women. Fistula can cause recurring infections and, in some cases, nerve damage in the lower legs that can make it difficult or impossible to walk. Many women living with fistula struggle with depression and may face severe social stigma or rejection from their communities and family. Most women with fistula are already economically disadvantaged, and without their family’s support, some struggle to support themselves financially. While fistula surgery, physiotherapy, and counseling/reintegration services are available to address many of these issues in Guinea, women with damage so severe that they cannot be repaired locally or those who have had multiple surgeries but who still struggle with incontinence are persistently confronted with physical, social, and economic barriers.
Recently, EngenderHealth in Guinea received funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to increase the participation of people with disabilities, so as to address the challenges of women permanently disabled by their fistula. Building on existing programs, Fistula Care will collaborate with the Ministries of Health and Social Affairs to identify women living with fistula and create Women Living with Fistula Organizations (WLFOs) throughout the country. Each WLFO will elect a leader, and Fistula Care will work with the leaders to foster project ownership and inclusion of women who are permanently disabled by their fistula in the implementation of prevention and treatment programs.
This program will use a combined approach of technical and business skills-building, depending on the interests and abilities of each woman. The project will partner with the USAID-supported project People for Rural Integration, Development and Education (PRIDE) and with local women’s associations to ensure the training. Using this two-pronged approach of technical and business skills building will enable women disabled by fistula to access microcredit programs and start small businesses.
The project will also train women to educate communities on the causes of and means of preventing fistula. In addition, leaders of WLFOs will be trained in advocacy and will participate in a national forum to raise decision-makers’ awareness about the challenges of living with fistula. The project looks forward to partnering with individuals and community organizations to improve the lives of women disabled by fistula in Guinea.