College of Humanities

Doctoral Study into Obstetric Fistula Survivors in Malawi

Socio-cultural factors influencing the reintegration of obstetric fistula survivors in Malawi was the focus of a study which earned Dr Mwawi Gondwe a PhD in Population Studies.

Obstetric fistula refers to a hole between the birth canal and bladder and/or rectum, and is caused by prolonged, obstructed labour without access to timely, high-quality medical treatment.

Said Gondwe: ‘I want to make a difference in the lives of rural marginalised mothers who suffer in silence and crying out for so long without adequate help. These mothers are often neglected and ostracised by their families and society, regarded as pariahs and feel hopeless. Their status as women is diminished and some consider suicide.’

Gondwe did research on 18 obstetric fistula survivors, 15 healthcare providers who treat and care for these patients, 15 spouses of sufferers and family members who live with survivors.

In his study, many survivors acknowledged they had been assisted to reach a certain acceptable level of reintegration due to programmes implemented to help them. Gondwe noted that ‘there exists some traditional beliefs which impact on the reintegration of obstetric fistula survivors and that widespread poverty is a deterrent to the prevention of obstetric fistula’.

He argues that there is a need to bring psycho-social programmes near where obstetric fistula survivors live and to holistically evaluate the impact of the entrepreneurial activities that the survivors get involved in.

‘Mass education programmes are needed to demystify traditional beliefs and emphasise the real causes of obstetric fistulas, its consequences and preventative measures should continue to be rolled out. Government, private sector entities and non-governmental organisations are needed to strengthen and implement policies to assist empowering women and eradicating poverty in Malawi,’ said Gondwe.

He thanked his family, friends and supervisor Professor Pranitha Maharaj for their support.

Gondwe plans to continue publishing his research and research into women’s reproductive and maternal health issues.