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Fistula Foundation
Make a Difference TodayDonate to
Fistula Foundation

Fistula Foundation

Fistula Foundation works exclusively on treating obstetric fistula, a devastating childbirth injury resulting from prolonged labor in which the baby is often lost, and the woman is rendered incontinent. Without surgery, women are often stigmatized for their smell and isolated from their communities. Fistula is largely eradicated in wealthy countries, but continues to ruin lives in the poorest parts of the world where access to maternal care is limited.

Fistula Foundation has worked in 31 countries across Africa and Asia, training surgeons, funding surgeries, building hospital infrastructure, providing post-operative care and counseling, and increasing community sensitization.

The Problem

Obstetric Fistula. Lack of medical assistance during childbirth, particularly in the developing world, frequently results in obstructed labor which lasts for many days. As a result, over a million women worldwide suffer from obstetric fistula, a tear between the birth canal and the rectum or bladder. Fistula can cause ongoing pain, repeated vaginal and urinary tract infections, leaking feces, and reduced ability to bear children. It also leads to severe incontinence, with stark social consequences: women living with fistula are often shunned by their family and community due to the foul smell.

The Solution

Cost-effective, restorative surgery. Obstetric fistula do not heal on their own. Fortunately though, reconstructive surgery can reverse the damage and repair the birth canal. However, the limited number of trained fistula surgeons in the world means that fewer than 20,000 procedures take place annually. Even where the procedure is available, combined surgery and rehabilitation costs total an average of US$686 (including overhead) per woman. This is far beyond the financial means of most women who suffer from fistula in developing countries, yet a fraction of what such medical services would cost in developed countries.

How Fistula Foundation is different from other charities

Fistula Foundation has funded more than 39,000 surgeries since 2009—more than any other organization in the world. They focus solely on fistula repair surgery and making sure women have access to it.

The Foundation is committed to moving donor dollars quickly and cost-effectively to partner organizations in the field, so this money goes directly to help women in need. More than 80 percent of financial expenditures go directly to program costs and support.

In 2014, Fistula Foundation launched an innovative countrywide treatment network program in Kenya, with the potential to end fistula in across the country in a generation. Its integrated network allows surgeons, outreach workers, and hospitals to share resources and information to effectively treat more Kenyan women than ever before. The program expanded to Zambia, in 2017.

Why Fistula Foundation is effective


A life-changing fistula surgery costs roughly US$686 (including overhead). This is less than the cost of one night’s stay in most United States hospitals and far less than the DALY cost for many other poverty interventions.

High success rate

Reports from recipients of Fistula Foundation’s funds, backed up by meta-analyses, point to a success rate of around 86 percent.

Careful vetting

The Foundation rigorously reviews all potential partners, including local doctors and award-winning fistula surgeons and healthcare innovators. Grant recipients must provide regular, detailed reports, and field visits ensure that money is well spent.

High Impact

Fistula Foundation’s accountability and sustainability

Fistula Foundation is recommended by The Life You Can Save, and is a GuideStar Platinum Participant--the highest rating awarded to nonprofits. For the past eleven years, Charity Navigator has awarded Fistula Foundation four stars, a rating given to only 1 percent of charities. Additionally, Fistula Foundation has been named a top-rated charity by both Charity Watch and GreatNonprofits.

The Foundation meets standards in all 20 categories of accountability as assessed by the Better Business Bureau. A breakdown of expenditures, tax returns, audits, and annual reports is available on their website.

Frequently Asked Questions

How will my donation be used?

The Foundation funds a range of costs associated with treating fistula, including surgeries, training and salaries for local surgeons, equipment and facilities, postoperative care, assistance in reentering society, and outreach to inform women about the availability of free treatment.

Who are Fistula Foundation’s partners?

The Foundation works with local hospitals and medical staff, including several award-winning surgeons and leaders in fistula treatment. Potential partners go through a rigorous review process, including external checks of local doctors’ reputations. Grant recipients receive funds in stages and are required to provide regular, detailed reports. Site visits are conducted by Fistula Foundation’s CEO, medical director and program director to build a closer relationship between Foundation staff and partners on the ground, and to also help ensure funds are used appropriately.

Why doesn’t Fistula Foundation use government funds?

Fistula usually happen to some of the least empowered people: poor, rural and often illiterate women, in parts of the world with very weak healthcare. Additionally, many of these countries have equally weak central governments that are unable to provide the treatment required. While reports show that one million women have fistula, fewer than 20,000 are reportedly treated annually, meaning that for every woman who receives treatment, 50 more still wait. Fistula Foundation also actively seeks to provide surgeries that would not otherwise receive funding.

Why does The Life You Can Save recommend Fistula Foundation?

Fistula Foundation has been one of our recommended charities since before our current charity selection process was adopted in November 2016. We recommend Fistula Foundation based on research our founder Peter Singer did when he was writing his book The Life You Can Save. The book uses obstetric fistula surgeries as an example of an intervention that clearly provides a profoundly life-changing benefit for a young woman at a modest cost for such services.  Peter consulted contacts who were knowledgeable about the field, and they recommended Fistula Foundation as a specific organization. 

Is my donation tax-deductible?

Fistula Foundation has 501(c)(3) status in the United States. Eligible UK donors can claim Gift Aid by donating through The Life You Can Save UK here.

More Information

Image credits: #1 Hope Foundation, #2 Fistula Foundation, #3 Georgina Goodwin, #4 Georgina Goodwin

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