Meet FIGO Fellow Dr Akter: “I can do something for society”

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In 2014, CCBRT was officially accredited by the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) as an international training centre for fistula surgeons. Since then, we’ve trained 18 FIGO fellows and other surgeons aspiring to gain fistula repair experience, who have spent weeks learning from our expert fistula surgeons Dr Peter Majinge and Dr James Chapa.

That’s how in late May 2018 Bangladeshi surgeon Dr Fahmida Akter found herself at our hospital in Dar es Salaam. From a young age, Dr Akter knew that she wanted to be a doctor: “In Bangladesh, families want sons, and women are neglected. I wanted to serve society, so that people would see that women could do something for the society. Being a doctor, I can do something for society.”

After graduating from medical school, Dr Akter began working at the HOPE Foundation for Women and Children of Bangladesh, where she encountered women living with obstetric fistula. Obstetric fistula is an injury that occurs during prolonged or obstructed labour that results in women leaking urine or faeces, and often leads to their marginalisation or abandonment. At the medical centre where she works in Bangladesh, Dr Akter saw many women who had lived with fistula for decades. Inspired by their stories, she applied for a FIGO fellowship and was placed at CCBRT.

“I had never thought of coming to Tanzania,” she laughed at the beginning of her fellowship. “But I’m excited to be a FIGO fistula fellow.” 

Six weeks later, at the end of her training, Dr Akter was still excited – and grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from CCBRT’s fistula surgeons and nurses. Over the course of her training, she assisted with “many, many surgeries” and performed 12 surgeries herself. “I think that I can help people now,” she reflected. “Doing surgery independently has been very helpful to me. I can do surgeries at home with confidence.”

She also learned many things about other aspects of fistula treatment from CCBRT – from patient examination and counselling techniques to the importance of holistic care, such as good recreational programming, for encouraging positive patient outlooks and recovery. Drawing comparisons between her experience at CCBRT and in Bangladesh, she looked forward to bringing what she saw and learned as a FIGO fellow back home with her.

For example, she said, “Bangladeshi women are very conservative and don’t want to be seen by male doctors. Six or seven days ago I met a patient who at first didn’t want to be seen here [at CCBRT] by male doctors. But after the surgery, she was so happy she hugged the doctors. I took the patient’s history before the surgery – she had been suffering for 35 years. A short surgery ended her suffering. It was amazing: being here is very much encouraging to be a fistula surgeon.”

Thanks to the partnership between CCBRT and FIGO, at the beginning of July Dr Akter returned to Bangladesh as a FIGO-certified fistula surgeon. “I’d like to thank FIGO for giving me the opportunity to learn from CCBRT,” she said before she left. “I learned many things and did many surgeries under the supervision of Dr James and Dr Peter… [now] I will go back to do something for women in need.”

Dr Fahmida Akter was a visiting FIGO fellow at CCBRT for six weeks from May to July 2018.
Dr Akter performs a fistula repair surgery.
Dr Akter with the CCBRT fistula surgery team.