Delays contributing to the development and repair of obstetric fistula in northern Tanzania

Cody Cichowitz. Melissa H. Watt, Bariki Mchome, Gileard G. Masenga
Publication year: 

Introduction and hypothesis

Delays in receiving obstetric care during labor contribute to high rates of maternal morbidity in sub-Saharan Africa. This exploratory study was conducted to identify important delays experienced during the development and subsequent repair of obstetric fistula in northern Tanzania.


Sixty women presenting to a tertiary hospital with obstetric fistula completed structured surveys about the birth experience that led to fistula development and their experiences seeking surgical repair. A subset of 30 provided qualitative accounts. Clinical data were collected postsurgery. Data were analyzed according to a four-delay model, with iterative analysis allowing for triangulation of all sources.


During the index pregnancy, women labored for a median of 48 h. Most women (53/60; 88.3%) delivered in a facility but labored for a median of 12.4 h before deciding to seek care (Delay 1). Women spent a median of 1.25 h traveling to a facility (Delay 2). After presenting to care, 15/51 (29.4%) waited at least an hour to see a medical provider, and 35/53 (66.0%) required transfer to another facility (Delay 3). Women lived with fistula for a median of 10 years (Delay 4). Qualitative data provided context and a deeper understanding of the factors contributing to each delay.


Critical delays exist both outside and within the healthcare system that contribute to the development and timely repair of obstetric fistula. Healthcare system strengthening, particularly with regard to emergency obstetric care, is critical to reduce the burden of obstetric fistula in women in Tanzania.