Treatment-seeking for vaginal fistula in sub-Saharan Africa

Samson Gebremedhin, Anteneh Asefa

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Background: There is dearth of data regarding the treatment-seeking practice of women living with vaginal fistula. The paper describes the health-seeking behaviour of fistula cases in the sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) where the burden of the problem is high.

Methods: The data of 1,317 women who ever experienced fistula-related symptom were extracted from 16 national Demographic and Health Surveys carried out in SSA between 2010 and 2017. The association between treatment-seeking and basic socio-demographic characteristics was analysed via mixed-effects logistic regression and the outputs are provided using adjusted odds ratio (AOR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI).

Results: Among all women who had fistula-related symptom, 67.6% encountered the problem soon after delivery, possibly implying obstetric fistula. Fewer identified sexual assault (3.8%) and pelvic surgery (2.7%) as the underlying cause. In 25.8% of the cases clear-cut causes couldn't be ascertained and, excluding these ambiguous causes, 91.2% of the women possibly had obstetric fistula. Among those who ever had any kind of fistula, 60.3% (95% CI: 56.9-63.6%) sought treatment and 28.5% (95% CI: 25.3-31.6%) underwent fistula-repair surgery. The leading reasons for not seeking treatment were: unaware that it can be repaired (21.4%), don't know where to get the treatment (17.4%), economic constraints (11.9%), the fistula healed by itself (11.9%) and feeling of embarrassment (7.9%). The regression analysis indicated, teenagers as compared to adults 35 years or older [AOR = 0.31 (95% CI: 0.20-47)]; and women without formal education compared to women with formal education [AOR = 0.69 (95% CI: 0.51-0.93)], had reduced odds of treatment-seeking. In 25.9% of the women who underwent fistula-repair surgery, complete continence after surgery was not achieved.

Conclusion: Treatment-seeking for fistula remains low and it should be improved through addressing health-system, psycho-social, economic and awareness barriers.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0216763
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Africa South of the Sahara
  • Demography
  • Dystocia/psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Pregnancy
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Vaginal Fistula/etiology
  • Young Adult


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