Eradicating Obstetric Fistula During COVID-19

Dr Andrew Browning Fistula Surgeon

It is estimated that only one woman in 50 has access to fistula treatment. 

Dr Andrew Browning, Fistula Surgeon and Chair of the FIGO Committee for Fistula and Genital Trauma, and also Chair of the Fistula Surgery Training Initiative Expert Advisory Group trains FIGO Fellows to provide life-transforming care to help significantly address the global treatment gap.

On the occasion of the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, FIGO spoke to Dr Andrew Browning about the programme, and the current challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FIGO Fistula Surgery Training initiative is so important because it is vital that people do not try to operate on fistula patients without training. This used to happen and the operations would often go wrong, making any hope of a cure more remote. We need properly trained and equipped doctors.

The Impact of COVID-19

A woman with obstetric fistula is one of the most desperate and needy of patients.

The COVID-19 outbreak and the lockdowns in place have made the plight of fistula patients all the more acute. From my own perspective, I was due to travel to Uganda, South Sudan and Tanzania to operate on over 90 patients. The borders of those countries closed so I was unable to go and the patients had to return home.  It is devastating for them to have their hope of help deferred. 

Many outreach programs that find and refer fistula patients for help are now closed, patients cannot travel to hospitals and there are fewer aid donations as the world's economy is shrinking. Fistula patients will suffer as a result.

I also hear that in certain places women are scared to deliver in hospitals, as they are afraid of the virus. There are reports of women dying at home trying to have a baby and I am certain more will be getting fistulas too.

I am sure there will be a lot more catching up to do after the COVID-19 crisis passes. We cannot help all of the women who need fistula surgery without the FIGO Fellows who have been through and are involved in the training program. 

International Day to End Obstetric Fistula

The International Day to End Obstetric Fistula helps to keep the fistula patient and her plight in the public eye, otherwise they run the risk of being forgotten, especially at times like this.

The FIGO Fistula Surgery Training Initiative is a globally recognised, state-of-the-art training programme. Using FIGO’s Global Competency-Based Fistula Surgery Training Manual, the world’s first standardised curriculum, we deliver training, education and research. Dr Andrew Browning helps to trainour 62 trainee surgeons - ‘FIGO Fellows’ – who are doing incredible work in some of the world’s most underserved regions.