​This radio program is saving women's lives in Zambia

In 2017, the Fistula Foundation began airing radio programs in Zambia to educate women about obstetric fistula, a painful condition still present in the developing world.

When Jennifer started leaking urine uncontrollably in 1994, she thought she had been bewitched. Everyone said she had done something wrong. Her husband ended up leaving her for another woman, leaving Jennifer alone and unsure what was wrong with her body.

It wasn’t until 2017 that she learned she had obstetric fistula, an ailment that creates a hole in the birth canal. More than a million women go untreated for the ailment, which is largely absent from the developed world and usually only seen in the developing world.

It was thanks to a radio program that Jennifer finally got help for her injury. In February of 2017, the Fistula Foundation started airing radio programs in Zambia to educate women about the condition.

women in zambia on the radio From February 2017 to June 2018, the Fistula Foundation conducted six community radio programs, covering 21 districts and reaching nearly 3,000,000 listeners. (Photo: Fistula Foundation)

“Giving the phone number is what is helping,” said Bwalya Chomba, program manager of the Fistula Foundation’s Zambia office. The program airs for one hour and it shares information about what fistula is, what the foundation does, and how women can get treatment. The program runs in several districts three times a week for six weeks at a time.

“For many women, it’s the first time that they heard of fistula,” Bwalya says. “They know there is a condition, but they don’t know what it is.”

Sometimes, she adds, they think they are bewitched, just like Jennifer thought she was.

In Zambia, the issue for many of the women in rural areas of the country is finding transportation to a hospital to get treatment for an injury they don’t even know what it is.

This program helps. Bwalya even answers the phone to speak to the women firsthand.

A doctor also takes part in the program, sharing details about the medical aspects of the injury while Bwalya talks more about the social aspect. For many of the women with fistula, the ailment is not only physically debilitating, but socially isolating as well.

multiple women in line in Zambia For many of the women in rural areas of the country, just finding transportation to a hospital for treatment is a huge impediment. (Photo: Fistula Foundation)

For Jennifer, she called the number she heard on the radio and Bwalya did a verbal screening. She was convinced Jennifer had fistula and she convinced her to seek treatment at a hospital. But the hospital was far away, so the Ministry of Health provided a bus for transport.

“She never attempted to get treatment during that whole 23 years,” says Bwalya, adding that Jennifer even stayed inside, afraid of being ostracized. She even skipped her daughter’s wedding, she was so ashamed of the leaking urine.

Now, though, she has been healed — thanks to the Fistula Foundation’s outreach efforts. She’s happy and healthy again and seeing her daughter for the first time in many years.

“We support reintegration into the community,” Bwalya says, adding that that includes counseling family members and supporting them.

From February 2017 to June 2018, the Fistula Foundation conducted six community radio programs, covering 21 districts and reaching nearly 3,000,000 listeners.

group of women outside in Zambia More than a million women go untreated for the painful ailment. (Photo: Fistula Foundation)

Sarah Nachula is one such listener. Though she has never had fistula, she encountered the program and became involved, helping other women seek treatment for the devastating ailment.

“I’m a woman and I’ve seen the gravity of fistula,” she says. “I don’t want to see other women suffer.”

So far, Sarah has helped send four women to get treatment for fistula, thanks to learning about the Fistula Foundation’s work through the radio program.

From January to June of this year, 34 patients have been located because of the radio program.

- story by Kristi Eaton

Fistula Foundation

Fistula Foundation was founded in 2000 as an all volunteer organization to support the pioneering Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia. Our success between 2004 and 2008 enabled us to dramatically expand our mission to fight fistula globally. As a result of this rapid expansion, we have now supported fistula treatment in 31 countries at sites on two continents, Africa and Asia. We fund more obstetric fistula surgeries globally than any other organization.

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