Document Type



Obstetrics and Gynaecology (East Africa); Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health


Background: Female genital fistulas are abnormal communications that lead to urinary and/or fecal incontinence. This analysis compares the characteristics of women with fistulas to understand how countries differ from one another in the circumstances of genital fistula development.

Methods: This retrospective records review evaluated demographics and circumstances of fistula development for 6,787 women who sought fistula treatment between 1994 and 2017 in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Zambia, and Ethiopia.

Results: Most women developed fistula during childbirth, whether vaginal (3,234/6,787, 47.6%) or by cesarean section (3,262/6,787, 48.1%). Others had fistulas attributable to gynecological surgery (215/6,787, 3.2%) or rare causes (76/6,787, 1.1%). Somalia, South Sudan, and Ethiopia had comparatively high proportions following vaginal birth and birth at home, where access to care was extremely difficult. Fistulas with live births were most common in Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambia, indicating more easily accessible care.

Conclusions: Characteristics of women who develop genital fistula point to geographic differences in obstetric care. Access to care remains a clear challenge in South Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia. Higher proportions of fistula after cesarean birth and gynecological surgery in Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambia signal potential progress in obstetric fistula prevention while compelling attention to surgical safety and quality of care.


BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.