A few years ago, I had the extraordinary opportunity to visit Hope Hospital in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. I was deeply moved by the fistula survivors I met at Hope, who were so grateful for the free treatment they received there.
Nine in 10 women give birth at home in this rural area of southern Bangladesh. This is done typically in the presence of a traditional birth attendant or female relatives, who might bring food or drink to comfort their laboring sister, but will discourage her from any expression of discomfort. If something goes wrong and the woman’s labor becomes obstructed, she could remain in excruciating pain for days. Without emergency intervention, such as a cesarean section, she could die or suffer a debilitating injury.
Obstetric fistula is the most devastating of all childbirth injuries. Not only is a woman left unable to control her bodily wastes, but her baby usually does not survive. Too often, she is abandoned by her husband and ostracized from her community because they cannot stand her smell. The only cure is surgery, but most women with fistula live in rural, poor areas and can’t afford treatment.
Hope’s Unsung Hero
“I have dreamed all my life of helping vulnerable people in rural Bangladesh. Men in the area have many ways to escape their problems, but the women and children are often left with few options, and little access to quality health care.”
—Dr. Iftikher Mahmood
On my visit to Bangladesh, I was accompanied by Dr. Iftikher Mahmood, the founder of Hope Hospital. For nearly two decades, Dr. Mahmood has quietly been improving the health of countless women in need who would otherwise be forgotten.
Dr. Mahmood was born in Cox’s Bazar, and today, he lives in Miami, Florida, where he is a pediatrician.
But he always knew he wanted to do something to help those who needed medical care in his home country. So, in 1999, he rented a small facility that he turned into a one-room outpatient clinic, putting his own money and energy into his dream before asking anyone else to join him.
That one-room clinic has grown into a 40-bed charitable hospital with eight rural medical centers, a training center for midwives, and a strong local team with deep connections to the surrounding rural areas. In this region of 2 million people, it remains the only routine provider of fistula treatment.
Dr. Mahmood’s time is now almost equally divided between his pediatric practice and Hope Hospital, which he has described to me as the love of his life. I have seen with my own eyes that this is true.
A Dream for the Women of Bangladesh
When Dr. Mahmood told me he dreamed of building a new facility to more fully serve the women of this area, I knew I had to help in any way I could.
Once built, the Hope Maternity and Fistula Center will be a haven for poor mothers who would otherwise not be able to access or afford quality medical care. The six-floor hospital will include space for:
- Year-round obstetric fistula treatment
- A dedicated fistula ward, with 15 beds reserved exclusively for fistula patients
- Antenatal visits and delivery rooms, to help prevent fistula from occurring
- 24-hour emergency obstetric care
- Surgeon and provider training
Take Action Challenge
I have pledged my support to help Dr. Mahmood deliver this dream to the people of Bangladesh, but we need your help to raise the $250,000 needed. Through September 30, every dollar you give will be used to build and support the Hope Maternity and Fistula Center in Bangladesh.
Lead photo credit: Jessica Love