Document Type



School of Nursing and Midwifery, East Africa


Background: Obstetric fistula classic symptoms of faecal and urinary incontinence cause women to live with social stigma, isolation, psychological trauma and lose their source of livelihoods. There is a paucity of studies on the health seeking behaviour trajectories of women with fistula illness although women live with the illness for decades before surgery. We set out to establish the complete picture of women’s health seeking behaviour using qualitative research. We sought to answer the question: what patterns of health seeking do women with obstetric fistula display in their quest for healing?

Methods: We used grounded theory methodology to analyse data from narratives of women during inpatient stay after fistula surgery in 3 hospitals in Kenya. Emergent themes contributed to generation of substantive theory and a conceptual framework on the health seeking behaviour of fistula patients.

Results: We recruited 121 participants aged 17 to 62 years whose treatment pathways are presented. Participants delayed health seeking, living with fistula illness after their first encounter with unresponsive hospitals. The health seeking trajectory is characterized by long episodes of staying home with illness for decades and consulting multiple actors. Staying with fistula illness entailed health seeking through seven key actions of staying home, trying home remedies, consulting with private health care providers, Non-Governmental organisations, prayer, traditional medicine and formal hospitals and clinics. Long treatment trajectories at hospital resulted from multiple hospital visits and surgeries. Seeking treatment at hospital is the most popular step for most women after recognizing fistula symptoms.

Conclusions: We conclude that the formal health system is not responsive to women’s needs during fistula illness. Women suffer an illness with a chronic trajectory and seek alternative forms of care that are not ideally placed to treat fistula illness. The results suggest that a robust health system be provided with expertise and facilities to treat obstetric fistula to shorten women’s treatment pathways.

Publication (Name of Journal)

BMC Womens Health

Included in

Nursing Commons