My name is Habiba Cooper Diallo. I am an activist for the eradication of obstetric fistula all over the world, but my focus is on the eradication of fistula in Africa. I am a Canadian who was born to a Jamaican mother and a Liberian-Guinean father. Over the past few years, I have been engaged in a study of my diverse cultural backgrounds.
During the summer of 2008, while doing research on African ethnic groups, I came across an article about a young Tuareg girl from Niger named Anafghat Ayouba. After four days of labour, Anafghat gave birth to a still born baby boy and had a fistula between her bladder and vagina. Anafghat’s story touched me on so many levels. At the time I read the article I was about the same age as her when she developed fistula. I felt bound to her by a cultural and human thread. It was in reading another article about Anafghat that I learned of her death. It read, in 2007 “[Anafghat] died suddenly from complications of an infection on May 25.” I remember crying upon reading this. In one report she was alive, in the next, she was dead. My amazement at her death thus propelled me into an extensive study of obstetric fistula, which would eventually begin my journey as an advocate for the eradication of fistula.
I took my passion for fistula with me to school. That fall, I entered grade 7 and whenever I was given any liberty with regards to completing classroom assignments, I always found ways to creatively integrate fistula into them. By the end of middle school, I had written two short stories both on the topic of fistula. This trend continued on into high school where I wrote an article about Anafghat’s experience with fistula for my school newspaper and would discuss the affliction with my peers. By grade 10, I had read one of my short stories on fistula at Toronto’s Word on the Street, Canada’s largest outdoor literary festival, and had given a TEDx Talk about the affliction. In the spring of 2012, I launched my organization, WHOI, the Women’s Health Organization International, to bring fistula to the attention of the Canadian public and to address certain medical concerns of African-descended women living in Canada. The founding of WHOI led to several opportunities for me to educate people about fistula in communities across Toronto and Halifax.
I have also been able to learn more about the women affected by fistula through my travels to hospitals and clinics in Ethiopia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. Given that fistula does not afflict women living the Western world, people often struggle to relate to the plight of fistula patients. I realized it was necessary for me to start FEP, the Fistula and Empowerment Program to bridge the gap between women who suffer from fistula in Africa and women of African-descent living in Canada who experience barriers to accessing quality health services.
I started this blog to document the work I have been doing on fistula for the past 9 years since that summer in 2008 when Anafghat entered my life. Together, we can put an end to fistula.