Dr. Hillary Mabeya, founder and lead surgeon of Gynocare Fistula Center in Eldoret, Kenya, spoke at a recent fundraiser for Direct Relief International to generate awareness about women in developing African and Asian countries who suffer from obstetric fistulas. The 2nd annual Direct Relief Women Mother’s Day Event in Montecito was attended by 150 guests who enjoyed a cocktail hour before listening to a presentation by Dr. Mabeya. They then participated in an auction that raised over $100,000 for medical care and relief for the millions of women suffering from the condition.
An obstetric fistula, which, according to the World Health Organization, is “the single most dramatic aftermath of neglected childbirth,” is a hole that forms in a woman’s birth canal or between between her vagina and rectum because of obstructed labor and improper medical care. The complications that arise from prolonged birth can kill the baby, and a fistula can prevent the mother from having more children and lead to incontinence.
The issue is sometimes exacerbated by an existing health issue, called stunting, that many women in developing countries suffer from; their skeletons may not be fully developed by adulthood because of poor nutrition they received as children. Each year, approximately 50,000-100,000 new women are affected by obstetric fistulas.
Tom Cusack, board chairman of Direct Relief International, attended the event to support Dr. Mabeya and his continued efforts to bring medical help to women in need. “Dr. Mabeya is a truly passionate individual who makes a substantial difference every day in women’s lives,” said Cusack.
Dr. Mabeya started Gynocare Fistula Center in 2009 after witnessing the overwhelming amount of women who suffer from the condition. Those afflicted are often ostracized from their husbands and communities. Along with his wife, Carolyn Mabeya, who offers psycho-social counseling at the center, Dr. Mabeya continues to take in more patients and recently began training new assistants to help him with the sheer volume of women seeking treatment. “The surgery takes me maybe two hours to perform,” said Mabeya. “I want to thank [women with fistulas who get the surgery] so much for their perseverance and hope for a better life after the surgery.”
The center started as an outpatient clinic in 2009 but has since expanded with support from Direct Relief International to provide fistula corrective surgery. It’s the first facility of its kind in Kenya and continues to provide free and year-round fistula prevention, treatment, and recovery programs.
Mari Mitchel, board member for Direct Relief Women, believes that it is her group’s obligation to continue to educate others about preventable health complications that are so frequent in countries that do not have adequate health funding or assistance. “It is our way of paying it forward. You can’t not do anything when you see how strong of an impact you can have on these people’s lives,” said Mitchell. “Every woman and child deserves a safe birth. Direct Relief makes this happen. Because of last year’s Mother’s Day fundraiser, 4,500 babies and mothers met each other for the first time safely.”