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Twelve of the women who were forced out of their hospital beds when radical Islamists seized the city of Gao in northern Mali have finally been found and treated, thanks to the reinstatement of the Fistula Care Project in Mali.
After a long search, the project and its local partner GREFFA located many of the missing women—some of whom had been without care for almost nine months. Project staff then transported them and ten other obstetric fistula1 patients to Mopti, a city southwest of Gao, where a surgical team provided the treatment, care, and referrals the women so urgently needed.
Gao fell into the hands of armed rebel groups on March 31, 2012. The attackers looted and ransacked facilities throughout the city, including the hospital, where many patients were preparing for or recovering from obstetric fistula repair surgeries provided by the project. The rebels ousted the women. Terrified patients fled into the streets, some with their catheters and infusion bags still attached.
At the time of the attack, a patient named R. Maiga had just undergone surgery. “When the hospital was ransacked,” she says, “we were all alone in the middle of the chaos… Even the bed I was sleeping on had been stolen. There were no longer any health workers to remove my catheter. Today I give thanks to God and GREFFA, who looked for me and treated me, because I had become very ill with a high fever. I was told I had an infection, and for several days I couldn’t tell the difference between day and night. I truly give thanks to God. I’m a real miracle.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) suspended the Fistula Care Project in Mali after a coup d’état last March threw the country into a state of political unrest and rebels began to secure control in the north. Project leaders and hospital staff knew the missing fistula patients were in a weakened state and at high risk for infections.
USAID has now lifted the suspension, allowing project staff and health workers to gather the missing women and take them south for treatment. Today, all but three of the women from the hospital in Gao have been found.
When the project staff found them, many of the women were traumatized. Two had been kidnapped by armed groups and raped several times. At least one now needs psychiatric care, which she is receiving at the national university hospital in the capital city of Bamako.
The Fistula Care Project is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and led by EngenderHealth. IntraHealth International is a partner in the project and manages its work in Mali.