(note from Krissy - this is incredible, I can't wait to be a part of this and dance with the women in Guinea!)
VVF Dress Ceremony
From down the hall, the distant drums start to beat as the voices begin to sing out in celebration. Onboard the Africa Mercy, today is a day for celebration. Several women enter the hospital ward with their hands raised in celebration. Each one is dressed in bright fabric with fancy head-wraps and new jewelry. They each wear makeup, some for the first time in their lives. Today’s celebration is for them . . . because they have been healed.
The women are all part of the Mercy Ships VVF program. VVF is an injury caused by obstructed labor. It causes a woman to continually leak urine, feces, or both. Sadly, these women are often shunned from society because of the smell resulting from their incontinence. In their culture, it is commonly believed that the physical problem is the result of a curse or a sin. Many of the women lose their husbands and families. They are completely cut off from society – alone and in despair.
In reality, the biggest cause for VVF is a lack of access to emergency obstetric care. When labor becomes complicated, a woman is left to suffer for days as the unborn child continues to push down on the mother’s pelvis.
Dr. Lauri Romanzi, a VVF surgeon, says, “It is a completely preventable condition that can be eradicated from the world. It takes prevention.” That prevention is access to health care, something that is not available in third world countries like Togo, West Africa. In the western world, if the labor becomes obstructed, the mother is rushed into surgery for a caesarian section. “In the United States, the percentage of births that perform a caesarian is over 30%,” Dr. Romanzi explains. “This eradicable epidemic is a problem merely because these women do not have access to emergency caesarian sections.”
This is why VVF awareness is important – because it is a condition that could affect any woman in the world, but, with proper health care, it is preventable. The women share the emotional pain caused by their physical condition. “If their voice is crying out for one thing, it would be to be normal again,” Dr. Romanzi says, fighting back her own tears in her passionate concern for these women.
As the women stand up to give their testimonies, emotions are clearly written on their faces. Chins quiver and words fail them as they try to thank Mercy Ships for saving them from a life of anguish. Today marks a new day! Their strength and perseverance have finally carried them to the end of their suffering, and now they can let go of the past. It means they have the prospect of starting over and re-entering society. It is the start of a new life with delightful possibilities.
Joy wipes away their tears, and they dance out of the ward as they sing – a song of happiness, healing, and triumph that rings throughout the halls of the hospital. Each woman leaves the ship with her head held high in new-found confidence. It is her new beginning!
Written by Nicole Pribbernow
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Debra Bell