Soft-spoken, compassionate and cheerful. Hayat Peter is one of the nurses who is contributing to ending obstetric fistula in Juba, Republic of South Sudan. Being a nurse for 22 years, she has helped many patients. However, assisting fistula patients to regain their dignity is one of the proudest moments in her career.
The 42-year-old is a mother of nine children, seven of which are adopted. Her husband died in 2007 while on duty as a police officer in Yambio State. Ever since she had to take care of her family as a single mother. Apart from being a mother, her other lifelong dream was to help women suffering from fistula. She works in the gynaecological section and she is one of the 23 nurses trained by Amref Health Africa in South Sudan to support fistula patients and offer obstetric care at the Juba Teaching Hospital in South Sudan’s capital. “I am happy that I was trained to help women suffering from Fistula,” she says. “I have supported over 200 fistula surgeries, I am proud of that,” she confirms.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), fistula is an abnormal opening between a woman’s genital tract and her urinary tract or rectum that is often linked to one of the major causes of maternal mortality: obstructed labour.
Most fistula patients are neglected and abandoned by their family and community members. However, Hayat sees the struggle in her patients. “I do not feel they are dirty, I talk to them, we laugh, hold hands and hug,” she said. In addition, she goes out of her way to provide compassionate care to the women. “I burn an aromatic incense around the women which produces a scented smoke that makes them feel comfortable and happy,” she explains.
According to Hayat, many fistula patients are between 13-15 years due to early pregnancy, and inadequate access to health facilities that force them to deliver at home with the help of traditional birth attendants (TBAs). According to WHO (2018), 19.4% of births in South Sudan are attended to by skilled health personnel. This notwithstanding, about 1/3 of all girls in South Sudan get pregnant before turning 15 (UNICEF, 2020).
“It is important to sensitize and educate young girls as well as communities not expose them to sexual abuse, child marriage and early pregnancies because their bodies are not developed enough to handle pregnancy.“ Hayat takes advantage of every moment she meets girls or women to create awareness about risk factors, prevention and treatment of fistula.
“I talk to women about this condition in communities, public transport, hotels or anywhere I come across a pregnant woman,” she says.
Hayat proudest moments are when the women recover and go back to their communities and continue with their normal lives. “Fistula survivors still call me to appreciate the free surgery that transformed their lives,” she adds. “This makes me proud to be a nurse.”
Hayat says that more work has to be done to reach more women with fistula. She continues to encourage women to give birth in the hospital and attend antenatal care.
South Sudan has a limited number of facilities that offer obstetric fistula repair. The medical camps are sporadic compared to the backlog of cases. Hayat urges Amref and its partners to support more camps in order for women to pick up the pieces of their lives broken by fistula and rebuild a better life for themselves.
In order to meet the ever-growing need for services for fistula patients, Amref Health Africa in South Sudan in partnership with UNFPA mentors and trains health workers and sets up fistula repair teams from various states of South Sudan. These teams include fistula surgeons, medical officers, operating theatre nurses, midwives, ward nurses and anaesthetists in obstetric fistula surgery and care for fistula patients.
Since 2019, Amref has restored the dignity of 80 fistula patients through surgeries in South Sudan.
By Maureen Cherongis
Amref Health Africa