MWAPE MWENYA, Mkushi
THREE out of 1,000 babies are born with deformities. In some cases birth defects occur due to exposure to certain medicines, chemicals or infections during pregnancy.
However, the exact causes of certain birth defects are often unknown, says University Teaching Hospital (UTH) clinical care head Mulindi Mwanahamuntu.
Dr Mwanahamuntu explains that birth defects differ as some children are born without a birth canal (vagina) while others are born with both male and female sex organs. This condition in medical terms is referred to as intersex.
He says UTH, which is the main referral hospital for gynaecological cases, operates 10 to 20 percent cases of women with birth abnormalities annually.
Dr Mwanahamuntu explains that birth defects which in most cases occur within the first three months of pregnancy can also be a result of genetics, lifestyle choices and behaviours.
Those with abnormalities can be accorded an opportunity to live a normal life by undergoing surgery.
Recently a team of doctors conducted a surgery on 24-year-old Jane Kabangwe (not real name), who was born without a birth canal (vagina).
Consultant obstetrician gynaecologist Goshom Kasanda who led a team of surgeons in the construction of the birth canal for Ms Kabangwe said the successful operation lasted two hours.
Dr Kasanda, who is based at Chilenje hospital, says there are women like Ms Kabangwe who are suffering in silence without knowledge that surgery is available for them to live a normal life.
He explains that the surgical procedure that was conducted on Ms Kabangwe is known as vaginoplasty (neovaginoplasty). This is a reconstructive surgical procedure for creating a neovagina which accounts for one percent of gynaecological cases Chilenje hospital is treating.
“Chilenje hospital now has the capacity to treat such cases and many more in relation to women reproductive issues. We have qualified gynaecologists to handle such matters. It is important that more women come forward and receive treatment,” Dr Kasanda says.
And Dr Mwanahamuntu says some may not have a birth canal but have a uterus. When surgery is carried out on such women, they may have an opportunity to conceive.
However, for Ms Kabangwe, she did not have both a birth canal and a uterus. In this case it will be impossible for her to conceive.
And growing up in the rural part of Mkushi, Ms Kabangwe’s family was convinced that she was bewitched and that made them seek traditional healing as opposed to seeking professional assistance from medical personnel.
Born on November 7, 1993 in Mumbwa district, Ms Kabangwe did not show any sign of deformities until at three months, upon her mother noticing.
“I am told when I was a baby, my mother was using herbs to rub the area where I was deformed with hope that it would open,” she says.
She narrates that upon using the herbs, the birth canal opened up and the mother stopped using them thinking that everything was back to normal, when in fact not.
“When I turned 14 years, I also observed that my peers were having menses while I was not. That was when I realised that something was wrong with me,” she says.
Her realisation became a reality when at the age of 15, her boyfriend attempted to have sex with her but failed (he could not penetrate).
Her supportive boyfriend therefore took it up upon himself to seek help for Ms Kabangwe from medical personnel.
“My boyfriend was more concerned about my problem than my family, he is the one who made me discover that it is possible for my condition to be treated and that is how I managed to have my birth canal constructed,” she says.
On disadvantages of creating a birth canal, Dr Mwanahamuntu explains that if the construction of the birth canal is done at a very early stage, before the person reaches puberty, it may close as they grow up.
The doctor explained that if it closes, it becomes difficult to create another one because of scar tissues.
The other disadvantage of creating the birth canal too early is that it may close up due to disuse as the person may be too young to indulge in sexual activities.
And on advantages, the head of clinical care says the person will grow up with that particular genital that has been created and will accept it their entire life.
Dr Mwanahamuntu said it is the responsibility of patients to seek medical care and not suffer in silence when the solution is possible.
“It is just that we do not publicise our work as this is against our ethics, but we do 90 percent of successful surgeries in gynaecological cases,” he says.
“I know that some women shun UTH because of long queues and postponements to see the doctor but people should understand that when they are asked to see the doctor at a later date, it means a patient is in less danger,” he notes.
Ms Kabangwe, who is grateful to the team of doctors that have now put her mind to rest, advises women with a similar condition to seek medical help and not to be cheated by witch doctors.
“Some medicine these witch doctors administer only causes more harm than good. Though I will never have children, I am grateful that I have a birth canal and I feel like a complete woman,” she says with a sigh of relief.