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Burundi: Fistula Surgery Changes Lives
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Burundi: Fistula Surgery Changes Lives

Fistula is a serious and embarrassing health condition for its sufferers, many of whom are marginalized by their families and communities around them. But in Burundi a major effort is underway to educate people about treatment options that can lead to a complete recovery.

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Segment 1

VOICEOVER
Burundi, in the Great Lakes region of Africa, is now rebuilding after more than a decade-long civil war. And people are finally returning to their usual routine. Women are spending time with the family and focusing on health issues. Every year, some 1,000 women are diagnosed with obstetric fistula in Burundi. Sylvie Harerimana was living with the condition for eight years.
SYLVIE HARERIMANA
I couldn't go in public places because people would smell the urine leaking. It was shameful.
VOICEOVER
Fistula is a relatively common condition in developing countries. It occurs when women endure prolonged labor, sometimes lasting as long as three to seven days. Representative of the United Nations Population Fund, or UNFPA, Barbara Piazzi-Georgi, explains.
BARBARA PIAZZI-GEORGI
Normally when the baby's head pressed against the walls of the vagina for too long, or other similar complications, the tissue of the vagina dies and there remains a fistula: a hole between the vagina and either the urethra in front or sometimes the colon at the back.
VOICEOVER
According to the World Health Organization, two million women and girls worldwide are living with fistula. Most don't know that it can be treated. Others live in remote villages with no access to clinics or hospitals. But Sylvie was fortunate.
SYLVIE HARERIMANA
I used to listen to the radio. I listened to a broadcast about the condition. I decided to go for an examination.
VOICEOVER
Two years ago, fistula was unheard of in Burundi. A countrywide campaign was launched to alert women about treatment options. In Bujumbura, the main city, only two surgeons operate on fistula patients. At University Hospital Centre, Dr. Ntukamazina Deogratias performs two or three simple surgeries each day.
DR. NTUKAMAZINA DEOGRATIAS
We started to operate on women with fistula in 2007. More than 80 percent of the operations turned out to be successful.
VOICEOVER
In some cases, women with fistula are marginalized because the illness is little understood. Forty-three-year-old Gaudence Karenzo's husband left when he found out she was sick.
GAUDENCE KARENZO
My husband got another wife. The doctors told him to bring me to hospital. He didn't want to do that.
VOICEOVER
Even though treatment is available, most women cannot afford it. More than 80 percent of Burundians live on less than USD$2 a day. The little money they have is saved for food supplies. UNFPA is now paying for transportation expenses and the cost of surgery to encourage women to seek help. It has been difficult for Sylvie and her husband, Salvatore. He spent a lot of time caring for her.
SALVATORE
I love my wife and I will keep her because I love her and I've got to take care of her.
VOICEOVER
Sylvie was dismissed from the hospital today. Her experience gives women a glimmer of hope that they too can be treated. It's also a step closer to reaching the goal of eliminating fistula globally by 2015.
VOICEOVER
This report was prepared by Mary Ferreira for the United Nations.