What is Pelvic Organ Prolapse?

“The smile on the face of my patients when their dignity is restored is the best part of my job. It’s why I won’t stop until Ethiopian mothers can enjoy a safe pregnancy, delivery and life with their children.” 

– Dr Leta, Medical Director and Surgeon, Hamlin’s Harar Fistula Hospital

What is Pelvic Organ Prolapse?

In addition to obstetric fistula repair surgeries, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia offers surgery for a range of gynecological conditions. One of these is for advanced stage pelvic organ prolapse (POP). 

POP is a gynaecological condition that can have a huge impact on a woman’s quality of life. A prolapse happens when one or more of the pelvic organs (bladder, uterus and bowel) slip down from their normal position and into the vagina, causing a bulge. 

If the prolapse is left untreated, it can slowly get worse, in rare cases, advanced stage prolapse can cause obstruction of the kidneys or even inability to pass urine which can result in infection or damage to the kidneys. POP can have a devastating impact on women’s lives. 

The Challenge in Ethiopia 

Prolapse affects women around the world, however across Africa there is a much higher number of women living with the condition and treatment can be difficult to access. 

In Ethiopia, a combination of high fertility rates, early pregnancy, childhood malnutrition, a lack of access to maternal and women’s healthcare services and high levels of physical work can result in higher rates of prolapse. Due to a lack of awareness about the issue and lack of access to care women often live with this condition for years. 

Patients usually arrive at Hamlin hospitals with already advanced stage POP, and subsequent complications – including bleeding, infection, recurring UTIs, decubitus ulcers, urinary obstruction and renal failure. 

Like obstetric fistula, prolapse has devastating physical and psychological impacts on a woman. 

Hope for Prolapse Patients 

Treatment for advanced stage pelvic organ prolapse, including surgery, can dramatically improve a woman’s health and quality of life. 

Despite the increased attention given to maternal health In Ethiopia, there has been little focus on improving public health services for women with prolapse. Many gynaecologists do not have access to updated surgical training and supplies. Prolapse remains one of the most common gynaecological problems in the country. 

Thankfully, all six Hamlin fistula hospitals have a specialist surgeon with urogynecology skills to undertake surgical repair of advanced stage POP. This life-changing treatment is free of charge to patients. Last year alone, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia conducted 1477 surgeries for advanced stage POP. 

Emama’s Story 

Emama, 60, recently received successful surgery at Hamlin’s Bahir Dar Fistula Hospital to treat a POP that she had suffered with for 10 years. 

She told us: “I felt ashamed to tell anyone what had happened, even my husband. I separated beds with him and tried to manage it by myself but the problem has been my everyday worry for the past 10 years.” 

Emama explained the free surgery she received from Hamlin changed her life – “Thank you for curing me and giving me a happy ending to the rest of my life.”