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Nigeria: You find love in the most unexpected places

29 Mar 2018

Bilkisu Aliyu is a Nigerian counsellor who has supported hundreds of women through the fistula repair process at Jahun general hospital, Nigeria, over the years. Her colleague Eileen Goersdorf is an Australian nurse who has completed three field assignments in Jahun. Here, they share the story of one of their patients who came away from the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital with even more than successful surgery. 

Eight years ago, Asabe Iro came to the MSF fistula unit. At the time she was aged ten, and she had been leaking urine since she was a baby. She was just seven days old when she was cut during traditional genital mutilation.

At age 13, Asabe received her first operation. But the surgery can be complex and unfortunately her fistula wasn’t fixed. She started leaking again a week after the surgery and was back three months later for repeat surgery. Over subsequent years surgery was tried a number of times but, frustratingly, her condition didn't improve. It must have been so hard. Asabe had spent her entire childhood leaking urine.

“I grew up in urine and had no idea what happens to me. I lived a difficult life full of challenges as a fistula patient,” says Asabe.

Obstetric fistula also known as vesicovaginal fistula, or VVF, is a complication most commonly caused by a prolonged and obstructed labour, and the lack of appropriate delivery care. The pressure causes an injury to the birth canal which becomes a hole between the vagina and bladder or rectum, leaving the woman constantly leaking urine, stool or both. It can also be caused by traditional methods of female genital mutilation. Fistulas can be complicated to repair, and may require multiple surgeries.

Socially neglected

Over time, Asabe became socially neglected. Her family grew tired of staying in hospital with her. The local MSF counsellor supported her and attended each operation. Despite the challenges, Asabe was always brave, courageous and smiling.

Asabe finally became dry after one last attempt at surgical repair in 2016. 

New love
Over her various stays in the hospital, there was one particular person that Asabe had grown fond of—the hospital watchman, Umar.

With her health back, she didn’t waste any time. On the day of her discharge from hospital, Asabe married her new love, Umar.

“I was so happy to finally be dry AND getting married!,” she says.

Soon afterwards, Asabe fell pregnant.

She had a caesarean section and now has a beautiful baby boy.

Asabe is a proud mother and wants to improve access to education for young girls.

“I want to be an advocate for education for young girls and to stop harmful traditional practices,” she says.


Médecins Sans Frontières runs an emergency obstetrics and newborn care program at Jahun hospital that assisted more than 8,300 women to give birth in 2017. The fistula program complements this care with fistula repair and rehabilitation. Asabe is one of 329 women who received fistula repair surgery at the hospital in 2017.