Columbia Ob/Gyn hosts Obstetric Fistula Symposium

Attendees at the Columbia University Obstetric Fistula Symposium on February 15, 2020.
Attendees at the Columbia University Obstetric Fistula Symposium on February 15, 2020.

The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center hosted an Obstetric Fistula Symposium focusing on new innovations in obstetric fistula repair at the Vagelos Education Center’s Simulation Center. Led by Dr. Helai Hesham, a female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery specialist and Assistant Professor of Ob/Gyn at NYP/CUIMC, the symposium brought together fistula surgeons, urogynecologists, bioengineers, and basic scientists together to optimize current repair strategies and technologies to better help women suffering from this condition around the world.

More than two million women around the world suffer from fistula, but there are few trained fistula surgeons able to treat this condition. The United Nations made a call to end fistula by the year 2030, a goal that will be nearly impossible by continuing to attempt to repair fistula by traditional methods. Current repair methods have remained largely unchanged for nearly a century, and training a gynecologist to also become a fistula surgeon can take 6 months or longer of intensive surgical training.

Attendees at the Columbia University Obstetric Fistula Symposium on February 15, 2020.
Attendees at the Columbia University Obstetric Fistula Symposium on February 15, 2020.

Dr. Hesham and other specialists saw an opportunity to find new technologies and techniques to make fistula repair easier and available for more women. The group aims to eliminate obstetric fistula through surgical correction for women who have already suffered from the condition, as well as improved obstetric care and access in order to decrease the incidence of fistula.

Experts at the symposium spent three days reviewing nearly 30 different technologies that were previously brainstormed, as well as two novel devices that the bioengineers in the group had created to ascertain feasibility and possible improvements.

“As an Afghan refugee and an obstetrician-gynecologist, maternal health and morbidity has always been one of my passions,” Dr. Hesham said. “Afghanistan likely has the most cases of obstetric fistula in the world, and some of the worst maternal morbidity during childbirth. I decided to become a urogynecologist to help women both locally and globally with pelvic floor issues such as fistula. I was able to complete the Baylor Global Health Fistula Training program three years ago and since have been able to continue fistula work abroad.”

Attendees came from all around the United States, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and Nepal and included experts in the field like Dr. Rachel Pope, Dr. Jan Paul Roovers, Dr. Steven Jeffries, Dr. Ty Erickson, Dr. Svjetlana Lozo, and others.

For more information about obstetric fistula, visit Dr. Pope's site, whatisobstetricfistula.com. To make an appointment or learn more about this condition with one of our urogynecology providers, visit columbiadoctors.org.