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Obstructed Labour in Resource-poor Settings: The Need for Revival of Symphysiotomy in Nigeria

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Symphysiotomy is an operation in which the fibres of the pubic symphysis are partially divided to allow separation of the joint and thus enlargement of the pelvic dimensions thereby facilitating vaginal delivery of the foetus in the presence of mild to moderate cephalopelvic disproportion. It is performed with local anaesthesia, does not require an operating theatre or advanced surgical skills. It can be a lifesaving procedure for both mother and baby in obstructed labour, especially in rural areas and resource-poor settings of developing countries, where a 24 hours availability of a caesarean section cannot be guaranteed. It is a simple underused technology that can be performed by a graduate doctor or midwife in rural health facilities and hospitals where most of the times, in Nigeria, there are no practicing specialist obstetricians. In rural hospital and in communities where sympysiotomy is still being performed, it is evident that it is preferred to caesarean section because of the socio-cultural desire to achieve a vaginal delivery. This paper highlights our experiences with symphysiotomy in a rural Roman Catholic hospital providing evidence on the safety of symphysiotomy and the need for its revival and reinstatement in the obstetric arsenal in Nigeria and similar countries in sub-Saharan Africa where maternal mortality as a result of prolonged and neglected obstructed labour still occur (Afr J Reprod Health 2012; 16[3]: 93-100).


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