Dr. Ambaye Wolde Michael, a world-renowned fistula surgeon and Medical Coordinator for WAHA International in Ethiopia travelled to Harare, Zimbabwe from July 7-12. She was able to perform surgeries for 14 women with obstetric fistula.

Dr. Ambaye Wolde Michael

During the second week of July, Dr. Ambaye Wolde Michael, a world-renowned fistula surgeon and Medical Coordinator for WAHA International in Ethiopia, travelled to Harare in Zimbabwe to perform life-changing operations to women with obstetric fistula.

According to recent World Health Organizationfigures, Zimbabwe has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world with 470 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2013. Data on obstetric fistula cases are difficult to come by, however, the high maternal mortality ratio, widespread poverty, and the fact that the majority of the population lives in rural areas with little access to medical facilities are all indicative of a high prevalence of obstetric fistula.

This program was established, with the generous support of the Fistula Foundation, to respond to the needs of women affected by obstetric fistula in Zimbabwe. An initial evaluation was carried out in December 2013 during which time Dr. Wolde Michael was able to perform surgeries on eight women. This project is part of a broader strategy on the part of WAHA International to establish a longer-term fistula care program in Zimbabwe.

During this week-long initiative, women from throughout Zimbabwe travelled to the Parirenyatwa Hospital, the main government hospital in Harare, to receive surgery. WAHA International covered all the medical and admission costs for the patients. Dr. Wolde Michael, in collaboration with local staff, operated on 14 women with complex fistula cases. Three other women with complex conditions were referred to urologists for further treatment. The women will spend the next few weeks in the Obstetric & Gynecology and Urology wards of the hospital until their catheters have been removed. Sister Yuvonne, a volunteer nurse will be working with local doctors and nurses to look after and care for the patients until they are discharged.

In Zimbabwe, awareness about the causes and consequences of obstetric fistula is limited and it is often believed that women with fistula have been cursed. As one of our patients said, “I must be cursed. God would not allow so much suffering”.

Several of the patients Dr. Wolde Michael treated were in their early and late teens and at a greater risk of experiencing obstetric fistula. Many of the patients had also been affected by fistula for many years, or even decades, and had already undergone several unsuccessful operations. Women who have undergone treatment for fistula often describe the operation as life changing. As one of the patients stated, “What [the medical team] has done is huge, it’s overwhelming. Words cannot describe how happy we are. We feel better physically and emotionally.”

Dr. Ambaye Wolde Michael describes her return to Zimbabwe as an “exciting moment” as she was able to see “the bright faces and broad smiles of the women who were very sad and unhappy when [she] left them last time.” Dr. Wolde Michael is an Ethiopian Obstetrician/Gynecologist who has over 20 years of experience and has operated thousands of women. For the past five years, she has been working as a fistula surgeon with WAHA International across different sites in Ethiopia and has travelled to many countries throughout Africa and Asia to conduct fistula surgeries and train local medical teams in obstetric fistula surgery and management.

To check out some pictures of Dr. Wolde Michael’s trip to Zimbabwe, please click here.

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