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Despite stigma and rejection, Fistula survivor in Yemen find a new hope

Khetam begins by saying, "I do not think that there is a woman who has suffered from a fistula as I did."

Khetam got a fistula when she was only 16 years old. Months after her marriage, her newborn died due to difficult labor.  Her birth lasted for three days.

After all the women in the village were unable to help her, the family decided to move her to the nearest hospital, which was ten hours away.

"I arrived at the hospital and gave birth to a dead baby. I was very sad, but I overcame my grief and returned to my village," Khetam says.

Khetam returned to her home and began to feel the symptoms of a fistula. She was very scared and told her mother about it but she hid it from her husband for months.

After a while, Khetam and her mother went to the hospital, and the doctor told her that fistula cannot be treated in Yemen.

"My husband divorced me and my whole family rejected me when I told them about my illness. And when my  mother, the only one who stood by me, died, I locked myself in my room for many years."

Years later, the whole family was forced to travel to Sana'a for the death of a relative where one of Khetam’s relatives learned of  her illness.

"My cousin took me to the hospital to discover that fistula treatment is available. UNFPA put me on a waiting list and offered me the needed money for my stay in Sana'a and the costs of the treatment."

The surgery took place in a complex manner, as several operations were decided for her due to the deterioration of her condition and her long years without treatment.

"Now the stage of treatment has begun and brings hope to my life. Whoever sees me thinks I am in my seventies, while I am no more than forty years old." Khetam adds.

In Yemen, with the collapse of the health system, lack of skilled birth attendants, rising levels of malnutrition, particulalry among pregnant women, and alarming rates of child marriage, resulting from the conflict, cases of fistula are rising. 

UNFPA has supported the establishment of three fistula units across Yemen. Since 2018 ,  more than fistula surgeries have been successfully performed free of charge. UNFPA is also helping to build skills of health personnel in treating obstetric fistulas with advanced training. In addition, UNFPA has created and strengthened a network between community volunteers, community midwives, reproductive health and fistula experts from almost all governorates to help women suffering from fistula get the services they need, including providing free transportation from rural areas.