Global health anthropology

Living with pelvic organ prolapse: voices of women from Amhara region, Ethiopia

Janne Lillelid Gjerde, Guri Rørtveit, Mulu Muleta, Mulat Adefris, Astrid Blystad

Gondar in Amhara region, northwest Ethiopia. Photo: Janne L. Gjerde
Janne L. Gjerde

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The objective of the study was to explore how women with symptomatic pelvic organ prolapse in a low-income setting explain, experience, and handle the potential practical and social consequences of the condition.

An explorative qualitative design was employed using in-depth interviews in the data collection. A total of 24 women with different degrees of symptomatic pelvic organ prolapse were included; 18 were recruited at the hospital and 6 from the community. Fieldwork was carried out in the Amhara region of northwest Ethiopia in 2011 and 2015.

The informants held that the pelvic organ prolapse was caused by physical strain on their body, such as childbirth, food scarcity or hard physical work, particularly during pregnancy and shortly after delivery. Severe difficulties and pain while carrying out daily chores were common among thewomen. The informants used a variety of strategies to manage their work while striving to avoid disclosure of their condition. Disclosure was related to embarrassment and fear of discrimination from people living close to them, including the fear of being expelled from the household. Most of the informants, however, experienced substantial support from relatives, friends, and at times also from their husband, after disclosing their condition.

The study highlights how symptomatic pelvic organ prolapse may severely affect women’s lives in a low-income setting. The condition is perceived to be both caused by and aggravated by the heavy physical burdens of daily work.