In 2001, Joseline gave birth to her only child, Justin, in Burundi. The baby was healthy, but the birth had serious consequences for Joseline. Due to a prolonged obstructed labor, a hole—an obstetric fistula—was torn between the birth canal and bladder. A common occurrence in countries with poor health systems, obstetric fistula is rarely treated, and women who suffer from the condition face a lifetime of incontinence. Due to their foul smell, these women often abandoned by their husbands and families.
“Immediately after the birth, I woke up soaking wet," says Joseline. "The doctor didn’t know what was wrong and simply sent me home every time I asked for treatment. It didn’t get any better, and it had a big impact on my life: I couldn’t go to church, the market, or work anymore.
"After a month and a half, my husband said to me: 'Joseline, this isn’t going to go away by itself. Ask your family to pay for some help.' I didn’t have any money, so I couldn’t get treated. My husband remarried, but he carried on taking care of me.
"His new wife was jealous and frustrated, so she left him. He fell seriously ill and died. In total I stayed hidden away at home for 11 years, afraid of being rejected by the people around me.
In 2012, with support from Humanity & Inclusion (the new name of Handicap International), Joseline had surgery at a health center in Gitega, Burundi. For Joseline, the operation was a success, and she’s got her life back.
“All that counts for me now is to heal completely and to take care of my son,” Joseline adds.
Like other patients under HI's care, Joseline is receiving physical therapy and counseling to help her recover physically and mentally. To reach other women who have yet to be treated, HI trains successful patients like Joseline to be community ambassadors who encourage other women to have the operation.