Exploring awareness of obstetric fistula in Eastern and Northern Nigeria: perceived causes, symptoms, and availability of treatment services

Glob Health Res Policy. 2022 Aug 18;7(1):29. doi: 10.1186/s41256-022-00264-0.


Background: Evidence suggests that there are approximately two female genital fistula cases per 1000 women of reproductive age in sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that more than 200,000 women are affected by fistula in Nigeria, primarily due to obstetric causes. Awareness has been indicated as a risk factor for the development of obstetric fistula. This study explored the awareness of obstetric fistula such as causes, symptoms, and availability of and access to treatment services in southeastern and northwestern Nigeria.

Methods: An exploratory qualitative study design was used to conduct this research in Kano and Ebonyi states in northern and eastern Nigeria, respectively. A total of six (6) focus group discussions were conducted with three categories of participants: women who were successfully repaired and discharged (n = 2), community-married men (n = 2), and women (n = 2). Forty-four (44) In-depth interviews were conducted three categories of participants: 18 with women with fistula who were either awaiting repair or had been repaired; 6 family member caregivers accompanying fistula patients, and 20 health service providers at fistula repair centers. We developed a data analysis plan based on the emerging themes. The transcripts and field notes were imported into QSR Nvivo version 11 and coded accordingly. Content and thematic analysis was run by inductively drawing themes based on the elicited information from participants.

Results: There was lack of knowledge of obstetric fistula and its causes among married men and women in the community, caregivers, and some patients were unaware of what caused their fistula for years. In this study, none of the community men and women nor caregivers correctly identified the causes and symptoms of a fistula or knew where to seek treatment. Knowledge about fistula was more common among women who had undergone repairs. Some repaired women attributed the cause of fistula to the providers who attended to them during delivery.

Conclusions: Findings reveal a widespread lack of awareness of obstetric fistula onset and awareness of the availability of repair services at the community level. There is an urgent need to explore multi-pronged strategies for increasing awareness of obstetric fistula and available treatment services among women and other community members.

Keywords: Fistula awareness; Fistula repair services; Knowledge about fistula; Treatment seeking behavior; Women with obstetric fistula.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Fistula*
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nigeria / epidemiology
  • Obstetric Labor Complications* / epidemiology
  • Obstetric Labor Complications* / etiology
  • Obstetric Labor Complications* / therapy
  • Pregnancy