Ugandan nurse recognized for her fistula fight



In Uganda, the Uganda Demographic Health Survey reports that 2% of women of reproductive age have experienced obstetric fistula, a medical condition described as a hole between the vagina and the bladder which results in constant leakage of urine or feaces through the vagina.

Brought on by prolonged or obstructed labour lasting more than 24 hours, this condition affects close to 2000 women annually in Uganda. This is what prompted Winnie Nakalema, a nurse at Kitovu Hospital in Masaka district to take keen interest in women experiencing the condition.

Nakalema’s efforts were recently recognized by the United States government and ISIS- Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange, a global action oriented women rights organization.

The nurse who joined Kitovu hospital in 1987, was instrumental in the opening of the Vesico vaginal Fistula ward in 2005 and operating theatre in 2008, which carries out operations for women with fistula at no cost.

To her, it goes beyond treatment but ensuring that women with fistula receive the best care from the hospital and once they are healed, it restores their dignity lost among their family and communities.

“These are women who have suffered more than you can expect, leaking urine day and night, year to year. So I feel happy when they come to me, young ones below 18 years of age are pushed away from homes when they become pregnant, but I make sure they go back home when they are cured,” She said

At Kitovu, Nakalema is part of the training workforce that, together with specialist surgeons from across the world, train doctors and nurses in obstetric fistula repair.

Her personal commitment and work ethic has also seen at least 90% of fistula patients return to the hospital for follow up visits and subsequent surgeries.

Nakalema says it gives her satisfaction that her work has had a great impact on women affected by the condition. “I am proud today that among the patients I am working on, over  160 have had children; there I feel happy because when they got fistula their babies died, so I feel happy when a woman regains her dignity ,” she said.

ISIS-WICCE board member, Elizabeth Lwanga says Nakalema stood out for her commitment in empowering women, a trait that deserves an accolade.

“We have come across very many women who are transforming their communities with little or no acknowledgement, women who are not deterred by the complex inequalities in their communities, women who give all, saving and changing lives with no expectations of reward,” Lwanga said

Nakalema was one of four Women of Courage who received awards for their contribution in creating change among women. Others included High Court judge, Justice Lydia Mugambe-Ssali,  the Director of Women Affairs in the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF), Col. Rebecca Mpagi and Donata Komuhangi, the founder of Karusandara HIV/AIDS United Group.