Decades of conflict have torn South Sudan apart and women and children have paid a particularly heavy price. Rape has been used as a weapon of war and while men fight many women carry the day-by-day burden of taking care of their families. With one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world becoming pregnant can also mean a death sentence to women, especially in the most remote areas of the countries. For each woman that dies in childbirth, an estimated 20 additional women suffer from devastating childbirth injuries like obstetric fistula (WHO 2014). Political instability, internal displacement, and economic crisis combined with lack of access to health facilities, early marriage, and teenage pregnancy have left thousands of women with obstetric fistula condition health groups estimates, officially there is no reliable statistics on fistula rates in South Sudan. Unicef reported that 52% of girls in the country have been married before 18 years old.
At Aweil State Hospital Ajok Athian, 18 years old cries on a bed while talking to a nurse. She has gone to a full fistula recovery surgery after complications during birth. Ajok had complications on delivery when she was in her village, her baby died during birth and the only help she got was from a TBA (traditional birth attendant) who didn’t have the knowledge required causing her the fistula. In a collaboration between the State Government, UNFPA (United Nations Populations Fund), and MSF a fistula campaign offered free corrective surgeries to 40 fistula survivors. Many women suffer from the condition but most of them do not seek treatment because they are being mocked by people in the area. Fistula survivors endure psychological trauma, depression, deteriorating health, increased vulnerability to poverty, and social stigma from family and friends. Due to lack of access to treatment and associated isolation, many survivors tend to live with the condition for years or even decades.