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I lacked the freedom to spend extended periods in social gatherings

Rose Gacheri, 50, took a heavy breath when I contacted her for this interview. For Rose, it was a long race, and she never thought her fistula journey would come to an end anytime soon. Her story can be traced back to 1994 when she went to deliver her fourth-born child.

During those days delivering to the hospital was the safest delivery one could make. Those were the days when women were highly encouraged to deliver in hospitals as health service providers helped to save women from maternal-related deaths.

Although Rose was lucky to deliver at the hospital, all didn’t go well. She suffered from a fistula. “After delivery, I realized it was hard for me to hold either a long or a short call. I was really confused since I had not experienced such in my previous deliveries,” Rose a mother of four opens up.

Rose, once a vibrant woman started distancing herself from her circles since she didn’t want her friends to know what she was going through.  “I decided to keep this top secret. Not even my children and husband were aware of what was happening in my life. I shared my story for the first time with the Flying Doctors team at the Tharaka Nithi Fistula campaign held from August 25 to September 5, 2023. It was my issue,” says Rose, a granny.

She admits that although it was a hard decision, she was at ease with it. “I would have revealed it to my husband, but he is a drunkard he wouldn’t have helped in any way,” Rose points out.

Rose notes that since 1994 she has missed many family occasions all in the name of not feeling well. “I had to shun them all and live alone since I didn’t want shame,” she says.

Change of tune.

But now things have changed. Rose’s life has been transformed by the Safaricom Foundation, The Royal Media Services, and the Flying Doctors Society of Kenya in their Fistula campaign.

“I heard the good news via Muga FM- a Royal Media vernacular station airing in the Ameru dialect. The description of the condition they were promising to treat seemed similar to what I have been suffering from. I listened and I made up my mind to attend the clinic,” she says.

She notes that after doctor diagnoses they found out that she was among women who needed treatment. and she was treated. She notes that for now, she has seen a change.

“I was treated, and my story has changed for good. My story is similar to the women in the Bible who suffered for many years with an issue of blood,” she explains quoting Mark 5:24-35.

Rose, a farmer confesses she never thought there was a cure for the condition since she had never heard about it. “I had not heard about it. Initially, I was hesitant about the treatment. Actually, I was not sure how I would be treated but I am well now,” she says happily.

Although she had made up her mind not to open up about the condition, she encourages women suffering from fistula to visit hospitals and find out more about the condition. “I am sure it’s expensive to treat the condition, but I would like to encourage fellow women, suffering from fistula, to visit doctors for advice,” she urges.

Rose adds that she has always been in a dilemma when travelling with public means for she didn’t know what to do.” I had to miss meals and drinks whenever I was travelling since, I knew if I ate anything, I might mess up. I would carry a lesso whenever I am travelling to avoid embarrassment,” she says pointing that as a management skill.

“You have to be smart whenever you are with people and know when to leave a gathering and even when to join. Fistula patients don’t have the liberty to spend a lot of time in social gatherings,” she adds.

Fistula is a condition usually caused by surgery gone wrong or an injury during delivery. It is estimated that, in Kenya, approximately 3,000 women and girls develop fistula every year, while the backlog of those living with untreated fistula is estimated to be between 30,000 and 300,000 cases.

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