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Around the time when Dr. Sita Millimono began working on fistula in 1993, the status of maternal health in Guinea was dire: Out of every
100,000 women who gave birth, 1,200 died (WHO et al, 2008). Women did not have easy access to education; only 18% of girls were enrolled in school (UN Statistics Division, 2010). In this context, Dr. Millimono worked with an Indian doctor and a Guinean professor to increase access to fistula repair. She quickly became passionate about a cause that she found very noble: helping women who were socially stigmatized, for no fault of their own. Dr. Millimono began working with EngenderHealth in 2000, and today it is difficult to imagine Fistula Care in Guinea without Dr. Millimono’s dedicated efforts.
As a program officer for the Fistula Care project (funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID]), Dr. Millimono works with a diverse group of partners to improve the availability and quality of fistula services in Guinea. She organizes training sessions for medical personnel on fistula prevention and treatment and on obstetric and neonatal care. Dr. Millimono assists with research initiatives and works with Fistula Care–supported sites to improve the quality of treatment. She serves as a liaison to nongovernmental organizations and the Guinean Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene, to achieve improved maternal health.
Dr. Millimono strives to bring messages about fistula prevention to different communities across Guinea. Recently, she organized an education session about fistula for Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant religious leaders. In schools, in women’s groups, and at public events like baptisms and marriages, Dr. Millimono raises awareness about fistula treatment and prevention. Along with all of her hard work on fistula, Ms. Millimono is the dedicated mother of two boys and two girls.
There is no doubt that Dr. Millimono’s efforts have contributed to the increased awareness about maternal health issues in Guinea. However, there continues to be work ahead. Dr. Millimono says that one of the biggest challenges to providing maternal health services is the public perception of these services. Lack of resources is another issue; for instance, at many sites, it is difficult to ensure there is enough bed space for fistula clients following repair.
Despite these challenges, Dr. Millimono is passionate about continuing her career, as she has seen the dramatic change that fistula treatment provides to women. A close relative had two failed surgeries before receiving a repair, and she cried for joy when she was finally healed and could live without the leaking and odor. Dr. Millimono says she is privileged to have had an education, and she wants to share her knowledge about maternal health with other women who have not had the same opportunity. Working with the Fistula Care project has enabled her to “be more useful to society as a whole, particularly to women, and to live out a wish that I have always had.” She explains that “fistula is not only an illness; it is a physical and social handicap, and a problem of human rights.”
United Nations Statistics Division. 2010. Millennium Development Goals indicators: Guinea. Retrieved from: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/mdg/Data.aspx, Feb. 18, 2011.
World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and World Bank. 2008. Trends in maternal mortality: 1990 to 2008. Geneva: WHO. Retrieved from: www.unfpa.org/webdav/site/global/shared/documents/publications/2010/trends_matmortality90-08.pdf, Feb. 17, 2011.