Uganda Trip Report: One Mother's Healing Journey Begins
In late January, I returned to Uganda for the first time since late 2019. The pandemic prevented me from traveling, which made this visit even more memorable. The hospital is in immaculate condition, and COVID protocols, including screening upon arrival and frequent testing, have successfully kept patients safe. The wards were full of patients, with women arriving daily for screening.
I had the opportunity to meet with several patients and hear their stories of living with fistula and receiving care at Terrewode Women’s Community Hospital. One patient whose story touched me was Eunice, who is a 39 year-old and a mother of six. During the birth of her last child in 2020, Eunice suffered an obstetric fistula. This was during the pandemic and Eunice started labor at home but quickly moved to the local health center for delivery. However, when the labor failed to progress, the midwife referred Eunice to a District Hospital, where after some delay Eunice delivered via cesarean section. Tragically, her newborn baby died shortly after delivery.
Due to the cesarean, Eunice did not realize she was leaking urine until after she returned home. She returned to the hospital with her husband, who has been incredibly supportive throughout her ordeal. The hospital could not provide treatment, but the doctor gave Eunice a phone number for her to call. Yet by this time, Eunice had lost hope that her condition could be treated. She sank into depression and didn’t call the number.
However, the doctor also called Terrewode to inform them of a new fistula case. When Terrewode staff received Eunice’s number, they called right away and assured her and her husband that Eunice could be indeed treated for fistula, and that all treatment at Terrewode is provided free to patients.
Eunice told me when she first arrived at Terrewode Women’s Community Hospital, she cried every day—she had even considered suicide. But the staff and caretakers at the hospital comforted her and shared their own stories of overcoming fistula. Two weeks later, Eunice herself had successful fistula surgery and she’s now dry.
Eunice was back at TWCH in January for follow-up care, this time bringing her 3-year-old granddaughter Laticia with her. Eunice and her husband are the primary caregivers for her granddaughter, and she said she wouldn’t have been able to return except for Terrewode’s open-door policy of caring for mothers (and in this case grandmothers) and their little ones during treatment. Terrewode understands that women are the main caregivers in their families, and for some, this can be a barrier to seeking treatment. Laticia was delighted to stay at the hospital, where she was showered with attention and love—a perfect example of what makes Terrewode so successful in their goal to deliver patient-centered care.
Workshop Advances Surgical Knowledge
My last week in Uganda coincided with TWCH’s first surgical workshop. This skills-sharing workshop was organized by Dr. Tino and Terrewode and included two international experts, who are long-term partners of Terrewode, and five senior Ugandan surgeons. The workshop covered surgical advances in fistula treatment, complex fistula cases, and the introduction of new clinical instruments previously unavailable in Uganda. The workshop was praised by the surgeons and the Ugandan Ministry of Health and Terrewode was appreciated for their efforts to share innovations and improve the quality of fistula treatment nationwide.
Bonnie Ruder is Executive Director of Terrewode Women's Fund. This was her first visit to Uganda since the COVID pandemic began.