Brisbane plastic surgeon Dr David Sharp will travel to Uganda next week to perform the reconstructive surgery for women with obstetric fistula and genital trauma, while training local doctors in complex procedures never performed in the region before.

Dr Sharp has teamed up with Brisbane-based charity Medical Training in Africa – founded by urogynecologists Professor Hannah Krause and Dr Judith Goh – to offer specialist plastic surgery techniques to women living in a remote Ugandan region.

Obstructed labor occurs disproportionately in girls and teenagers giving birth in regional Uganda, often because the mother’s pelvis is too small. The protracted labor usually results in the baby’s death, and the prolonged pressure of the baby against the mother’s pelvis damages the soft tissues around her bladder, vagina, and rectum, causing the tissue to die and tears or holes (fistula) to develop.

Women with fistulas constantly suffer from infections and pain as well as the embarrassment of wet clothes and a strong odour due to urine or faeces leakage. They are often shunned or abandoned by their partners and communities.

“Obstetric care in Australia is good, so fistulas rarely occur. These reconstructive procedures don’t often arise in Australia. But women in remote Uganda do not have access to optimal preventative healthcare yet, and that is also what we hope to change,” Dr Sharp said. “We know that when women receive good health care and education, they are able to participate in their country’s economy; and when women earn money, they are more likely to reinvest it back into their communities. So in addition to being a healthcare or women’s rights imperative, it also economically benefits the entire region.”

The Medical Training in Africa team will depart for Africa on Thursday, headed to two hospitals in Uganda. The team of Brisbane nurses and obstetricians will conduct local education initiatives to help community carers and pregnant women understand the signs of obstructed labour and when to get timely assistance.

Readers also liked our story about sustainable sunnies.