June 4, 2003 - The Mercury News: RPCV Ric Haas helps hospital in Ethiopia treat obstetric fistulas

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2003: June 2003 Peace Corps Headlines: June 4, 2003 - The Mercury News: RPCV Ric Haas helps hospital in Ethiopia treat obstetric fistulas

By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, June 04, 2003 - 9:16 am: Edit Post

RPCV Ric Haas helps hospital in Ethiopia treat obstetric fistulas

Read and comment on this story from The Mercury News on RPCV Ric Haas who helps hospital in Ethiopia raise funds to treat obstetric fistulas. Haas became aware of the problem of obstetric fistulas -- complications of childbirth that if left untreated can result in incontinence and nerve damage, causing women to be shunned by society. So he set up an all-volunteer, non-profit organization -- American Friends Foundation for Childbirth Injuries -- to help endow a fistula hospital in Addis Ababa. Read the story at:

RPCV Ric Haas helps hospital in Ethiopia treat obstetric fistulas*

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RPCV Ric Haas helps hospital in Ethiopia treat obstetric fistulas

San Jose financial analyst Ric Haas is doing what he can here to help the plight of outcast women in faraway Ethiopia. A former Peace Corps volunteer, Haas became aware of the problem of obstetric fistulas -- complications of childbirth that if left untreated (as is the case in much of Africa) can result in incontinence and nerve damage, causing women to be shunned by society. So he set up an all-volunteer, non-profit organization -- American Friends Foundation for Childbirth Injuries -- to help endow a fistula hospital in Addis Ababa, and thus far has been able to raise more than $55,000. You can check it out at www.fistula hospital.org or by calling (800) 728-3885. History will judge harshly the world's indifference toward Africa's suffering in our time. Haas' efforts offer a measure of penance.
More about the Fistula Hospital Foundation

Read more about the Fistula Hospital Foundation at:

Fistula Hospital Foundation

Support flows from American shores. The first successful surgical procedure for obstetric fistula was developed in the United States over 140 years ago. Now financial support for the repair and prevention of this debilitating injury in Africa is flowing from American shores.

The American Friends Foundation for Childbirth Injuries grew out of a visit to Addis Ababa in November, 1999 by founder, Richard “Ric” Haas and his daughter, Shaleece Haas. Ric was celebrating 30 years since completing his Peace Corps service in Ethiopia. Shaleece was researching women's reproductive health issues at the time, and World Vision, Ethiopia arranged a visit to Fistula Hospital.

It was “love at first sight” as both visitors were awed by the work of the hospital, and the incredible 40-year dedication of Doctors Reginald and Catherine Hamlin. While Ric talked with the administrators of the hospital, Shaleece started photographing the facilities and patients. They were both fascinated by the clean, upbeat ward and the sparkle in the eyes of the patients who were on the way to recovery of their health and their dignity.

In 2000, a major International Aid agency, which has provided about 15% of the hospital's operating budget for many years, indicated that they will not be able to continue to provide this funding indefinitely, as they have other needy projects to support. To counter this situation, the idea of AFFCI took hold.

By April, 2000 Haas, with the generous help of Lynda Moerschbaecher, Esq., began the legal process to form a public charity that would support the work of Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. On July 7, 2000, the first organizational meeting of the American Friends Foundation for Childbirth Injuries, a California Nonprofit Benefit Corporation, was held. On May 1, 2001 the Internal Revenue Service issued Determination Letter Number 17053341014040, qualifying the organization as a public charity under IRC Sec. 501(c)(3) with full deductions available to donors under IRC Sec. 170(b)(1)(A)(vi).

AFFCI has no paid staff and minor administrative expenses. Nearly every dollar raised by the organization funds programs at the hospital.

Our EIN (tax) number is 77-0547201.

Help is so near, and yet so far. One out of every twelve women in Africa dies in childbirth. and many more find their lives destroyed by childbirth injuries, mostly untreated obstructed labor. In western countries, obstructed childbirth is almost always successfully overcome with proper medical assistance and caesarean section. However, in many developing countries, people live in remote areas, and access to these procedures is nearly impossible.

In such countries, including Ethiopia, a woman with a small or malformed pelvis or a badly positioned child may be in labor for five days or even longer. Long after the child has died, the pressure of its head interrupts blood-flow to pelvic organs, resulting in one or more of the injuries described here (left).

Today, an estimated three million women throughout the developing world continue to suffer from these injuries. The problem persists partly because of the sense of shame attached to the condition, the lack of decision-making power available to women in developing countries and absence of knowledge in these countries of a surgical cure.

Yet the procedure for repairing these injuries dates back to the 1850s when South Carolina-born James Marion Sims developed the procedures, implements and suturing that inspired all subsequent fistula repairs. After demonstrating his operation to surgeons in New York, he set up the first woman's hospital to deal specifically with the problem. In 1861, he traveled to Europe, demonstrating his operation in Edinburgh, London, Paris, Brussels and Dublin. His work earned him the designation “father of modern gynecology.”

While somewhat refined, the surgery is performed in much the same way that it was taught by Dr. Sims. It is a relatively simple surgery with a very high success rate. The major challenges are to educate third-world physicians in the procedure, to provide facilities and equipment and to increase awareness of the procedure among women in outlying regions. The Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa is actively engaged in all of these activities.

“Fistula pilgrims” travel as in ancient times. Not long ago, a family of peasants traveled from their home Lalibella, Ethopia to Addis Ababa. They had sold a cow to raise the money for the long trip, two days walking and two days on a crowded bus. The family included a fifteen-year-old girl who had been carried on the back of her brother. Their mother, bearing a baby of her own on her back, accompanied the frightened girl on her journey.

At the age when most American girls enter high school and dress up for their first date, this teenager experienced a terrifying, unsuccessful, virtually unassisted childbirth labor. The injuries were severe: she had a hole in both her bladder and rectum, and had become incontinent. The stench in the small hut which she and her husband shared had grown unbearable, and he sent her back to her family, accompanied only by intense feelings of shame.

In many developing countries, the role of women is limited to providing sexual satisfaction for their husbands, producing children and performing the hard labor associated with agrarian life. Fistula injuries destroy their ability to fulfill these roles, and with it their sense of self-worth. They become social outcasts from their community through no fault of their own. The lucky ones hear that there is a surgery that can cure their wretched condition. Somehow, they beg the fare or pursuade relatives to take them where they can be helped.

In Ethiopia, that place is the Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa. When the girls arrive, many stay in hostels on the hospital grounds as they wait for their surgery date. There they are fed, clothed, provided with basic medical care or even extended rehabilitation. Once they are cured, they and their families are often given clothes and money for the journey back home.

Occasionally, the surgeons are unable to mend a woman's fistula injuries vaginally, so they perform an ileal conduit operation , leaving the patient with a permanent urostomy. These women are unable to return to their villages, as they will require frequent medical attention. Many of them remain at the hospital and work there as medical assistants. Recently, the hospital built a residential and agrarian village as a permanent home for these women.

Nothing goes to waste. One of the remarkable features of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital is its self-sufficiency. Even the gauze used in surgery is bleached out, dried, rolled up by recovering patients and re-used. Now, thanks to a land grant by the government of Ethiopia and construction grant by the government of Australia, the hospital will soon begin to produce some of its own food.

The farmland, outside Addis Ababa, will be worked by women for whom fistula surgery is either impossible or unsuccessful. These women must wear urostomy bags for the rest of their lives, and their need for ongoing medical attention prevents them from returning to their homes.

Construction of ten bungalows, each of which will accommodate ten women, is currently underway on the property, and is scheduled for completion in early 2003. The village, which is called Desta Mender, is not far from Addis Ababa, but the roads require a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Dr. Hamlin plans to send a doctor, nurse or physiotherapist to the village every day to care for the women and bring back the produce.

Overcrowding at the hospital has prompted another use for the village. Dr. Hamlin plans to send patients there who need weeks, and sometimes months of physical therapy before they are fit for surgery. Sending these women to live in the village will release beds in the hospital for patients who can be operated on at once. This, of course, will require having physical therapy equipment in the village.

Since the plans were originally drawn up, the costs of fuel, cement and labor have risen dramatically. One of the projects of the American Friends Foundation for Childbirth Injuries is to help complete the village. AFFCI has already contributed to completion of the water system, and is launching a campaign to donate furnishings for the bungalows. If you would like to donate a room of furnishings, please contact info@fistulahospital.org for more details.

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ethiopia; Obstetric Fistulas; Service



By Marilyn Gettman (dialup- - on Friday, January 16, 2004 - 8:58 pm: Edit Post

If surgical supplies were to be donated, how would they get to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. I live in Gresham, Oregon, outside of Portland. I'm not talking about gigantic loads of supplies, but would there be a way from here that the goods could get to therethat I would collect from the hospitals here in town?

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