It’s Up to Us: Tackling the Scourge of Fistula One Surgery at a Time
Patients receive care at an outreach effort hosted by our partner Artemedis in Kaziba, Democratic Republic of Congo.

It’s Up to Us: Tackling the Scourge of Fistula One Surgery at a Time

by Kate Grant, CEO, Fistula Foundation


Earlier this year, Fistula Foundation won a $50,000 prize after taking first place in a contest hosted by The Life You Can Save. We have our loyal supporters—along with Peter Singer, who generously donated the prize money—to thank for this achievement.

Funding of this kind could not have come at a more opportune moment. This year, we are beginning to pursue an ambitious expansion of our treatment network model. Meanwhile, given recent shifts in the funding landscape for global health, we are close to being “the only game in town” when it comes to large-scale support for fistula care.

A decade ago, both the United States and the United Nations had significant obstetric fistula programs. Since then, the U.S. fistula program has ended, and the UN program has shrunk to a fraction of its former size. In addition, several nonprofits that once operated in this space have either remained small or shut down altogether.

Where other entities are withdrawing from the field of fistula treatment, Fistula Foundation is advancing. Today, we’re the global leader in fistula treatment, and our ambitions are growing. Our teams are working harder and smarter than ever before to generate more support from our community. And, with that support, we are enabling our partners to deliver care on a steadily increasing scale.

We know we can do more, and we must. There are still at least one million women across the world who are suffering from fistula. Country by country, village by village, and surgery by surgery, we are working to reach those who need us most.


Since 2009, we’ve provided more than 65,000 life–transforming surgeries in Africa and Asia. Each one represents a woman whose life has been restored, thanks to the generosity of our tremendous donors and the extraordinary care provided by our healthcare heroes in the field.

Yvonne, a patient at Mbala General Hospital in Zambia, receives life-changing care to restore her continence.

Fistula Foundation is a bridge that connects these two essential parties to one another. Absent this collaboration between caring donors and high-quality providers, too many women are left suffering in the shadows. Our growth as an organization strengthens the linkage between donors and doctors. That ironclad linkage is what heals lives. With more funds placed directly in the field, more women can be found by outreach workers, referred to treatment facilities, and healed by skilled surgeons.

In fact, because of the tremendous support we’ve garnered, we are poised to reach another milestone this year: Our partners across 26 countries in Africa and Asia are on track to perform at least 10,000 surgeries—the most we’ve ever provided in a single year.

In addition to funding individual hospitals that heal thousands of women each year, we’ve created the Fistula Foundation Treatment Network (FFTN), with operations in Kenya, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The FFTN model reaches women living in the most remote places, and provides them with support throughout their healing journey.


Building on the success that we’ve seen in Kenya and Zambia, we recently expanded FFTN into the DRC earlier this year. We are combining forces with an outstanding group of partners, including Dr. Denis Mukwege—Nobel Prize winner and founder of Panzi Hospital—Artemedis, and HEAL Africa, among others.

Vice president of programs Lindsey Pollaczek (right) visits Dr. Justin Paluku Lussy (left) and his team at our partner HEAL Africa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Known as the “world’s most dangerous place to be a woman,” the DRC is an ideal location to build a large, integrated network of care providers and outreach workers. While the network model is more costly and harder to manage than funding individual hospitals, the opportunity to help women with fistula that this approach provides propels us forward.

Our Congolese partners treat some of the most vulnerable women in the world, often working in dangerous regions where poverty and political instability threaten women’s access to quality obstetric care. They are heroes, and they desperately need our help.

While the true burden of fistula is unknown, it’s estimated that 42,000 women in the DRC currently live with this condition. The DRC is a tough environment, but it also provides immense opportunity. By expanding support for our partners who are on the frontlines of this critical work, we’re ready to change the face of fistula care in that country.

Mado, a patient who was successfully treated by our partner FisPro in the Democratic Republic of Congo, came to say “Thank you” to Dr. Lucien Wasingya Kasereka, the surgeon who performed her life-transforming surgery.

Even as most of the global players in fistula care have left the field, we are stepping up our game. With ambitious surgery targets within reach and program expansion in the works, we are working to make our ultimate goal—ending fistula within a generation—more attainable. We are poised for progress, and driven by our mission to restore the health and happiness of women who have suffered for far too long. Onward and upward!

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Fistula Foundation

Fistula Foundation is a recommended charity of The Life You Can Save. Fistula Foundation provides funding for fistula surgery and treatment worldwide. Obstetric fistula is a preventable injury that can occur during complicated childbirth, with often devastating consequences for women and their families.

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The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.