What is Fistula?

A fistula is a medical condition brought about by obstructed labor and/or trauma leaving a woman with incontinence, resulting in isolation from family, friends and society, a lack of dignity, and a loss of hope.

Click here to download our one page Fistula Facts Sheet!


Contributors to Obstetric Fistula



Early marriage and pregnancy

Lack of education

Lack of access to medical care

Contributors to Traumatic Fistula

Political unrest

Use of violent assault as a weapon

Lack of education regarding the rights of women

* Image courtesy of The Fistula Foundation

Fistula Statistics

An estimated 90% of fistula patients consider suicide as a solution. (Kristof and WuDunn, Half the Sky)

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 2-5 million women have fistula worldwide.

The World Health Organization estimates there may be as many as 50,000 — 100,000 new cases of fistula each year, yet the global treatment capacity is less than 20,000 cases a year.

The last fistula hospital in the United States closed in 1895 and was located where the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York stands today. (Kristof and WuDunn, Half the Sky)

The first hospital dedicated to fistula in the developing world, the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, was not opened until 1974. (Hamlin and Little, The Hospital By The River)

One $450 donation can provide a hope-restoring surgery for one woman.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, success rates for fistula surgery are as high as 90% for uncomplicated cases and 60% for more complicated cases.

Where is Fistula?

To learn where fistula is prevalent and where current fistula care facilities exist around the world, please use the link below to access the Fistula Care Map.


Quotes About Fistula

According to the World Health Organization, “Obstetric fistula is the single most dramatic aftermath of neglected childbirth.”

”These are the women most to be pitied in the world,” said Dr. Hamlin. ”They’re alone in the world, ashamed of their injuries. For lepers, or AIDS victims, there are organizations that help. But nobody knows about these women or helps them.” (Alone And Ashamed, by Nicholas D. Kristof, Published: May 16, 2003)

“Nothing can equal the gratitude of the woman who, wearied by constant pain and desperate with the realisation that her very presence is an offence to others, finds suddenly that life has been given anew and that she has again become a citizen of the world,” Professor Chassar Moir. (Hamlin and Little, The Hospital By The River)

Want to Know More?

Below are some helpful videos about fistula, the plight of those who suffer under the weight of this condition, and the hope of restoration:

“A Walk to Beautiful” is a 53-minute award-winning documentary sharing the journeys of women in Ethiopia as they seek healing from fistula.  Please use this link to view this moving film: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w-fOmovijc&ob=av1n)

“LUMO: One Woman’s Struggle to Heal in a Nation Beset by War” is an award-winning film distributed by the Goma Film Project which focuses on the work of Heal Africa and a girl name Lumo who struggles to heal after suffering from a traumatic fistula.

One former fistula patient has become one of the top fistula surgeons in the world.  Learn about Mamitu’s story. Another former patient, Mahabouba, has also become part of the solution.  Find out more at this link: www.nytimes.com/packages/khtml/2005/06/12/opinion/20050612_FISTULA_AUDIOSS.html

Here is another video sharing the plight of fistula sufferers.  You may view the video at this link:


The below books are very insightful about fistula and may even cause you to step out in new ways to serve those in need:

The Hospital by the River: A Story of Hope by Dr. Catherine Hamlin and John Little – This is the autobiography of Dr. Catherine Hamlin, co-founder of Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia. She and her husband, Dr. Reg Hamlin, are the original pioneers of fistula repair in Africa. She has repaired about 30,000 fistulas to date.

Catherine’s Gift: Stories of Hope from Hospital by the River by John Little – This book follows several patients who were treated at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn – This book provides an excellent opportunity to educate yourself about the many injustices women suffer throughout the world, the amazing hope that exists in women when given a chance to rise again, and what you can do about it.

A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman by Lisa J. Shannon – Shannon began the movement Run for Congo Women after watching an Oprah show that featured the plight of the women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  She not only sponsors women in the DRC, she has visited them in their homeland and written about the many abuses they have suffered.  
Please note that this book covers some very heavy subject matter.

Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women by Carolyn Custis James – This book is a call to Christian women to be the image bearers God originally designed them to be and answer God’s call to fight against the oppression and injustice in our world.

A Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The Answer that Changed My Life and Just Might Change the World by Richard Sterns, President of World Vision United States – Sterns calls Christians to love their neighbor by acting on behalf of the poor.  This book won both the Christian Life Category Award and the 2010 Christian Book of the Year.”

You can find further information about fistula by visiting the The Fistula Foundation website at www.fistulafoundation.org.

To learn about conflict minerals, a major contributor to traumatic fistula, visit the following website: www.raisehopeforcongo.org.