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Experiences of social support among women presenting for obstetric fistula repair surgery in Tanzania

Authors Dennis A, Wilson S, Mosha M, Masenga G, Sikkema K, Terroso K, Watt M

Received 9 April 2016

Accepted for publication 18 June 2016

Published 6 September 2016 Volume 2016:8 Pages 429—439


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Colin Mak

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Professor Elie Al-Chaer

Alexis C Dennis1 Sarah M Wilson1–3 Mary V Mosha4 Gileard G Masenga4 Kathleen J Sikkema1,5,6 Korrine E Terroso1 Melissa H Watt1

1Duke Global Health Institute, Duke University, 2Department of Veterans Affairs, Mid-Atlantic Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center, 3Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Durham, NC, USA; 4Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center, Moshi, Tanzania; 5Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA; 6Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

Objective: An obstetric fistula is a childbirth injury resulting in uncontrollable leakage of urine and/or feces and can lead to physical and psychological challenges, including social isolation. Prior to and after fistula repair surgery, social support can help a woman to reintegrate into her community. The aim of this study was to preliminarily examine the experiences of social support among Tanzanian women presenting with obstetric fistula in the periods immediately preceding obstetric fistula repair surgery and following reintegration.
Patients and methods: The study used a mixed-methods design to analyze cross-sectional surveys (n=59) and in-depth interviews (n=20).
Results: Women reported widely varying levels of social support from family members and partners, with half of the sample reporting overall high levels of social support. For women experiencing lower levels of support, fistula often exacerbated existing problems in relationships, sometimes directly causing separation or divorce. Many women were assertive and resilient with regard to advocating for their fistula care and relationship needs.
Conclusion: Our data suggest that while some women endure negative social experiences following an obstetric fistula and require additional resources and services, many women report high levels of social support from family members and partners, which may be harnessed to improve the holistic care for patients.

Keywords: Tanzania, obstetric fistula, maternal morbidity, social support

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