Female urinary incontinence in sub-Saharan Africa

BJU Int. 2022 Nov;130(5):543-549. doi: 10.1111/bju.15903. Epub 2022 Oct 10.


Urinary incontinence (UI) is highly prevalent amongst women around the world. In this review article we explore UI, its consequences and treatment in sub-Saharan Africa, providing specific examples from Uganda and Malawi. In sub-Saharan Africa the prevalence of UI is difficult to assess because of the wide variation in reporting resulting from patients hiding their condition due to the associated stigma in many communities. Whilst much of the literature from low- or low-middle-income countries focuses on UI from pelvic floor fistula, recent evidence demonstrates that non-fistulous stress, urgency and mixed UI are highly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. Incontinence secondary to vesico-vaginal fistula can be related to obstetric causes, mainly obstructed labour. The risk factors for non-fistulous incontinence are similar to those identified in high-income countries, including high parity, vaginal and assisted delivery, gestational age, constipation, obesity, chronic cough and ageing. Urinary incontinence has significant social and emotional consequences, with a high proportion of women in African countries reporting relationship problems, depression and suicidal ideation. There is poor understanding of the perceived aetiology of incontinence in sub-Saharan Africa, which may, in part, act as a barrier for women to seek medical advice. Innovative solutions have been found to manage the large number of obstetric fistulas that are prevalent across Africa, but a lack of capacity in specialists trained to treat women with UI means that more doctors, medical officers and better resource prioritization will be required to help the, as yet unquantified, number of women with non-fistulous leakage. Better patient peri-natal education may reduce the incidence of fistula still further, especially if the stigma felt by women with incontinence is overcome and they are encouraged to seek treatment.

Keywords: obstetric fistula; sub-Saharan Africa; treatment; urinary incontinence; women.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pelvic Floor
  • Pregnancy
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Urinary Incontinence* / epidemiology
  • Urinary Incontinence* / etiology
  • Urinary Incontinence* / therapy
  • Urinary Incontinence, Stress*
  • Vesicovaginal Fistula* / complications
  • Vesicovaginal Fistula* / etiology