WashU alum opens first fistula hospital in Uganda

WashU alum Alice Emasu Seruyange, MSW ’10 (above, right), has built the first hospital in Uganda specializing in treating obstetric fistulas.

An obstetric fistula is a hole that forms near the vagina after prolonged obstructed labor. The condition can result in long-term health issues and, in some cases, death.

When Seruyange first met L. Lewis Wall at Washington University in St. Louis in 2009, she revealed her dream of building a fistula hospital in her home country of Uganda. Wall, professor of sociocultural anthropology in Arts & Sciences and of obstetrics and gynecology at the School of Medicine, warned Emasu it would take about 10 years and $2 million to build.

Ten years later, Emasu is spearheading construction of the Specialized Women’s Hospital in Soroti, Eastern Region, Uganda. The hospital is owned by Emasu’s nonprofit, TERREWODE. Emasu founded the nonprofit in 1999 to raise awareness about the condition, provide treatment, and educate about it’s prevention.

Emasu met roadblocks while developing the nonprofit. To better prepare herself, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in social work at the Brown School. She learned to mobilize resources. She also formed relationships with organizations and individuals who became instrumental in establishing the hospital. Wall, who has visited Uganda several times to assist with the hospital,  Wall notes that Emasu has become the leading advocate for women with these injuries in Uganda.

Theresa Spitznagle, professor of physical therapy at WashU, is the vice chair of the Worldwide Fistula Fund, a nonprofit organization founded by Wall in 1995. The organization is providing a five-year budgeted grant to TERREWODE to stabilize the hospital’s operating budget.

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