Raising awareness about women’s health—in three minutes or less

UAlberta nursing student Oluwakemi (Kemi) Amodu advances to Canadian 3MT finals.

It’s a barbaric condition. It’s barbaric that women have to live with it. It’s barbaric that policy makers are not putting in the needed effort and comprehensive strategies to address the problem.
Kemi Amodu, 3MT finalist


Watch Oluwakemi (Kemi) Amodu's winning 3MT presentation from the University of Alberta finals.

Lots of memories surface when reflecting on life as a 13-year-old: school, friendships, laughter and family get-togethers involving backyards and barbecues.

In this part of the world, it’s hard to comprehend how a 13-year-old Nigerian girl named Wasilla—already married to a 45-year-old man—could be left without health care for two days only to give birth to a lifeless baby. If that weren't devastating enough, Wasilla also developed a condition known as obstetric fistula—a tear between the vagina and bladder or bowel wall that can lead to loss of bladder control.

“Oftentimes, families and communities abandon these girls,” says University of Alberta nursing student Oluwakemi (Kemi) Amodu, who originally hails from Nigeria. “The experience, unspeakable shame and isolation has huge mental health implications—so much that some resort to suicide.”

In the 60 seconds it took to share Wasilla’s story, Amodu assumed full control of her audience’s attention at the regional Three-Minute Thesis competition, held last month in Kelowna. Amodu is now one of 11 finalists vying for the national crown.

Condensing a master’s thesis into three minutes for a broad audience is no easy feat, but it’s a challenge Amodu embraced without reservation. She spent weeks refining her message and delivery, with a payoff that doesn’t stop when voting ends on May 19.

Vote for Kemi

Amodu’s ultimate goal is to raise awareness about obstetric fistula—through 3MT and her research—and shape policy so the condition becomes just as rare in countries like Nigeria as it is in Canada.

Obstetric fistula is a 100 per cent preventable labour complication most common among very young, often poorly educated girls living in impoverished areas with little or no access to health care. One of the simplest ways to mitigate the risk is to delay the age of a woman’s first pregnancy, a strategy in conflict with cultural practices like Nigeria where 43 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18—and 17 per cent before they turn 15.

Amodu saw first-hand the shame the condition inflicts during her undergraduate studies and a clinical rotation at University College Hospital in Ibadan, Nigeria. She knows of cases of women living with obstetric fistula for 30 years, despite the fact it can be surgically repaired in 30 minutes, provided there’s access to health care—and, more importantly, the political and social will.

“It’s a barbaric condition. It’s barbaric that women have to live with it. It’s barbaric that policy makers are not putting in the needed effort and comprehensive strategies to address the problem, especially from a preventative perspective,” she says. “This shouldn’t happen to any woman.”

Nigeria introduced an obstetric fistula strategy in 2010, but the document “marginalizes the voices of women, suppresses their rights, reinforces power inequities and does not consider the broader social determinants of health that impact the lives of girls and women living with obstetric fistula,” Amodu says.

That’s something she hopes to influence when she begins her PhD studies in the Faculty of Nursing, either in the fall or next winter. She plans to study obstetric fistula in a global context  to see how policy action research can mobilize not only decision makers, but the women and girls actually at risk.

“They can be empowered to act. They can be made aware, they can be made conscious of the power they can wield as a community, collectively, to resist some of those oppressive traditions and oppressive norms that perpetuate obstetric fistula. That’s something I want to take on.”

Amodu’s 3MT presentation has been posted at the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies website so anyone can vote for their favourite; an expert panel will also review each video to award the top prize.