Hello, I’m Tay and in two weeks I’ll be heading to Bangladesh with Selfless as part of the #FightFistula Campaign. According to the Fistula Foundation:

“An obstetric fistula is a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder that is caused by prolonged obstructed labor, leaving a woman incontinentof urine or feces or both. For women with obstructed labor, labor that goes unattended, the labor can last up to six or seven days.”

Honestly, I had never really heard of obstetric fistula during the three years I spent at medical school – this was no accident. Obstetric fistulae are the result of poverty and inadequate healthcare systems. In the UK we have access to comprehensive maternal healthcare that is free at the point of use. This facilitated the prevention of any prolonged, obstructed labour and thereby eradicated obstetric fistula in this country.

Compare this with the 70,000 women in Bangladesh in need fistula repair surgeries (HOPE Foundation 2015). For them it is an experience of loss, sorrow and indignity, its trauma multifaceted. First, the mother must endure labour for more than 72hours: no easy feat, just speak to your mother! Second,the child usually passes way in the womb. Finally, once the labour is over, the mother is no longer continent and due to the foul smell that ensues, she is often ostracised by her family and society. The worst – or best –aspect of obstetric fistula is that it is both prevenatable and treatable. Fistula repair surgery andpostoperative care only costs $450 dollars (Fistula Foundation) and the surgery itself is not considered a complicated surgical procedure. With all of these facts – and here’s another: when we include Africa and more of South East Asia we arrive at the staggering statistic that 3,00,000 women worldwide suffer from obstetric fistula – it really does become evident that we must #FightFistula. Understanding and educating is always the first step.

Having got myself all riled up over obstetric fistula, I input the Elective Aid departure date into my iPhone calendar and begin fundraising. Many of Bangladeshi friends were surprised I was travelling there but nonetheless assured me of the natural beauty that awaited me: “Cox Bazaar has the longest natural beach in the world, you know?” At this stage it dawned upon me: it would be monsoon season (or the season of the mosquitoes) – oh joy(!) so I started preparing, buying anything and everything to add to my anti-mosquito artillery – secretly happy I was finally getting some use out of my amazon prime. As I prepared, I couldn’t shake the slight unease I felt when I considered my ability to access anti-malarials, get vaccinated and buy mosquito repellant, and the outrage I would have felt had I been deprived of these. The rife disparity between my situation and that of those people I would soon encounter slapped my face like an unforeseen wave and reminded me of those who were given little choice over their hand in life, handicapped by a lack of education, poverty and poor governance. I became excited to meet them and the idea of us learning from one another, hoping that the group and I would remain open to everything, listen, increase our understanding and enable ourselves increase the understanding of those around us in the UK upon our return.

Tay’s Story: Trepidations of an Intrepid Explorer – Part 1

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