In 2012, Habiba Cooper Diallo, with the objective to ameliorate women’s health in Africa and the African Diaspora, founded the Women’s Health Organization International (WHOI). Why was this? In 2008, at 12 years old, Habiba was greatly inspired by the story of Anafghat Ayouba, to pursue a plan of action that would enable females to achieve full control over medical experiences specific to their gender.
The history of WHOI began with an article in the Wall Street Journal that featured Anafghat’s experience with obstetric fistula- a devastating childbirth-derived affliction. Anafghat was a Nigerien girl who suffered a fistula as a preteen. She was admitted to the fistula ward at the National Hospital of Niamey, following four days of agonizing labor that resulted in a stillborn baby. Anafghat’s fistula was successfully treated by a group of obstetric surgeons, and she returned to her hometown, Tarbiyat, on a mission. She became a women’s health advocate in her community and an authority on female empowerment. Anafghat was determined to end the cycle of childhood marriage that pervaded the lives of numerous girls like herself. She quickly returned to school and came first in her class, being dubbed “the college student” by her peers.
Spellbound by Anafghat’s story, Habiba sought to learn more about the inspirational young woman. Upon reading another article about her, she was appalled to learn of her death. In spite of her treatment, Anafghat passed away in 2007 due to complications of an infection. This impelled Habiba to look deeper into the affliction. She quickly learned about Dr. Catherine Hamlin who, along with her late husband, Dr. Reginald Hamlin, founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital (Ethiopia) in 1974.
Empathizing with the fistula victims, Habiba soon developed a passion for the cause. She began consulting case studies, encyclopedias, and reports on a daily basis in order to acquire a broader understanding of the issue. Aware of her interest in the cause, her aunt soon bought her The Hospital by the River: A Story of Hope, by Dr. Catherine Hamlin. In the book, Dr. Hamlin gives a personal account of her work with women suffering from fistula.
Upon entering the 7th grade in the fall of 2008, Habiba made it a point of duty to promote fistula awareness among her peers. She would talk about fistula and the work of Dr. Hamlin on the morning announcements. A year later, she wrote a short story called, “Shimider Fistula: An Obstructed Labor” for an English Assignment. In 2011, Canada’s largest literary festival, The Word on the Street (Toronto), selected the narrative to be presented at the three day long event. In October of that year, she gave a TED Talk on fistula at her school entitled, “The Silent Menace,” and soon after she placed first in a Nova Scotia Lion’s Club speak out competition for her speech “Obstetric Fistula: A Legal Perspective.”
However, in January 2012, Habiba’s dream came true when she and her family took a trip to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. It was the most poignant experience of her life. It was during an interview with two fistula patients of her own age, that her connection to and work on obstetric fistula became more personal. Upon her return to Canada, she knew it was time to establish WHOI, and as such, began filing for legal status in March of that year. In April, she held a fundraiser for her sweet sixteen as an opportunity to educate her friends and family on fistula, and to garner support for WHOI.
Today, Anafghat Ayouba, and Habiba’s passion for women’s health advocacy and awareness, is the impetus behind WHOI.