Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Estimating the prevalence of obstetric fistula: a systematic review and meta-analysis

A J Adler*, C Ronsmans, C Calvert and V Filippi

Author Affiliations

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Keppel St, WC1E 7HT, London, UK

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2013, 13:246  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-246

Published: 30 December 2013



Obstetric fistula is a severe condition which has devastating consequences for a woman’s life. The estimation of the burden of fistula at the population level has been impaired by the rarity of diagnosis and the lack of rigorous studies. This study was conducted to determine the prevalence and incidence of fistula in low and middle income countries.


Six databases were searched, involving two separate searches: one on fistula specifically and one on broader maternal and reproductive morbidities. Studies including estimates of incidence and prevalence of fistula at the population level were included. We conducted meta-analyses of prevalence of fistula among women of reproductive age and the incidence of fistula among recently pregnant women.


Nineteen studies were included in this review. The pooled prevalence in population-based studies was 0.29 (95% CI 0.00, 1.07) fistula per 1000 women of reproductive age in all regions. Separated by region we found 1.57 (95% CI 1.16, 2.06) in sub Saharan Africa and South Asia, 1.60 (95% CI 1.16, 2.10) per 1000 women of reproductive age in sub Saharan Africa and 1.20 (95% CI 0.10, 3.54) per 1000 in South Asia. The pooled incidence was 0.09 (95% CI 0.01, 0.25) per 1000 recently pregnant women.


Our study is the most comprehensive study of the burden of fistula to date. Our findings suggest that the prevalence of fistula is lower than previously reported. The low burden of fistula should not detract from their public health importance, however, given the preventability of the condition, and the devastating consequences of fistula.

Vesicovaginal fistula; Maternal morbidity; Systematic review