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Meretu’s story: A life transformed

Meretu, a resident of Dandi Gudi Kebele in Ethiopia, endured seven years of hardship living with a vesicovaginal fistula (VVF). Married at a young age, she suffered complications during her first childbirth, resulting in a fistula and constant urine leakage.
Living with the fistula, Meretu’s life became a daily struggle. The constant wetness and odor caused shame and isolation. She feared social interactions, avoided gatherings, and felt ostracized by friends and family. Drinking less to control leakage led to concentrated and foul-smelling urine, further deepening her isolation.
The maternal health crisis manifests in conditions like fistula, a hole between the birth canal and bladder or rectum that causes incontinence. Fistula can largely be prevented by delaying the age of first pregnancy and timely access to obstetric care. It is important to note that while most fistulas can be repaired, some women cannot be completely restored and will continue to leak urine and even stool.  Fistula is a marker for the crises in maternal health in rural Ethiopia.  Where there is fistula, mothers and babies are dying in childbirth. Therefore, prevention is key; access to skilled assistance at the time of delivery along with emergency obstetric care such as caesarean sections can prevent these maternal health issues.
Poverty prevented Meretu from seeking treatment. Having lived with fistula for seven years, she was unaware of available medical options, and believed her condition was hopeless. A chance encounter led to a life changing opportunity for Meretu through a collaboration between Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus Western Wollega Bethel Synod Branch Office (EECMY-DASSC-WWBS-BO) and Village Health Partnership. She was screened and found appropriate for treatment and transported to Aira General Hospital, where she was admitted for surgery.
Meretu underwent successful fistula repair surgery, transforming her life. The constant leakage stopped, and the foul odor disappeared. She gradually regained her confidence and increased her social interactions. Following her surgery, she was transported to a rehabilitation facility along with other women who were further supported for three weeks with training in a balanced diet, food preparation from locally available food stuffs, vegetable gardening as well as mental health counseling services from a nearby hospitals’ gynecologist. As income generation, she was also provided with two sheep.
Meretu became an ambassador for the Screen, Transport and Treat Program (STTP), raising awareness for this repairable condition and demonstrating the success of this life changing procedure.  She returned to her community, no longer confined by shame and isolation. She actively participated in raising awareness about fistula and other gynecologic complications, mobilizing 1,500 people to send women to be screened and treated.
Meretu’s story is a powerful reminder of the devastating impact of fistula and the transformative potential of treatment. Her journey of resilience and hope serves as an inspiration for healthcare providers, policymakers, and communities to work towards a world where fistula is no longer a barrier to women’s health and dignity.

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