Date of Conferral
Dr. Michael Schwab
Women face great risks in pregnancy and childbirth, especially in developing countries where there are very few skilled birth attendants and negligible government investments in maternal health programs. As a result, obstetric fistula (OF), a potentially fatal but preventable and treatable condition, affects some 3 million women and girls globally. In Sierra Leone, the prevalence of OF is extremely high, but the absence of quality data to inform decision-making, both on prevalence and risk factors, is a barrier to creating an environment for OF prevention and care. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore and document the barriers to medical care, and the perceptions of patients and medical personnel concerning the complexities of OF. In-depth interviews were performed over a 2-month period with 12 patients and 8 medical personnel at the Aberdeen Women's Center in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Results showed that patients face multiple medical barriers including high costs, fear of hospital treatment, severely inadequate treatment, and severe physical sequelae including paralysis and foot dragging. Multiple emotional, social, and financial harms related to OF were also reported, including stigmatization, abandonment by family, embitterment, depression, and job loss. Most patients expressed a preference for traditional birth assistants over medical personnel. However, many also benefitted from the intervention of friends or other good Samaritans. The results and recommendations from this study should be helpful in informing the general public and policy-makers about OF as a major public health problem, and in the design and delivery of programs to eradicate or alleviate the problem of OF in Sierra Leone.