Today marks the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, a childbearing injury which robs women of dignity and opportunity. Things do not have to be this way, United Nations Population Fund.
(UNFPA)country representative DAN ODALLO writes.
Every year, May 23 is a special day set aside to call upon all of us to act on the devastating injury known as an obstetric fistula that happens to women while giving birth.
As they bring forth life, women experience a lot of problems particularly in countries and communities where access to healthcare services is limited.
Much as it is not talked about, Obstetric Fistula brings a lot of suffering and pain to women.
It robs them of dignity and opportunity.
Fistula is a childbearing injury caused by several days of obstructed labour, without timely medical intervention, such as a caesarean section.
With prolonged labour and sustained pressure of the baby’s head on the mother’s pelvic bone, most of the soft tissues are damaged creating a hole—or fistula—between the vagina and the bladder and/or rectum.
The result is the leaking of urine and/or faeces from the woman.
When this occurs, the woman has no control of this unnatural phenomenon and suffers neglect and violation of human rights
Over the past year, UNFPA has followed the total transformation of two women’s lives.
Alice Sabuni, from rural parts of Blantyre, was successfully treated for obstetric fistula at the age of 83 after living with this terrible and treatable condition for 66 years.
Jumwa, from Kenya, was treated at the age of 77 after living with fistula for 50 years.
We cannot adequately describe the sense of hope, healing, and restored dignity that this treatment provided, first and foremost to these two women, but also to their loved ones.
While these are stories of hope, they are also stories of tragedy.
The tragedy is that both women ever suffered from fistula in the first place. They should never have endured the decades of discomfort and shame that could have been so easily prevented.
The time has come to put an end to this suffering wherever it occurs.
Hope for women
The theme of this year’s International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, “Hope, healing, and dignity for all”, is a call to realise the fundamental human rights of all women and girls everywhere, with a special focus on those most left behind, excluded and shunned by society.
Ending fistula is a high priority for UNFPA.
It is a key step on the road to achieving the world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
Fistula has been virtually eliminated in the world’s wealthier countries, so we know that it can be eliminated in every country.
Strong health systems and greater efforts to address the underlying issues that perpetuate it, including poverty, gender inequality, early marriage and childbearing, and lack of education, are crucial.
Working with our partners in the Campaign to End Fistula, we have made progress towards eliminating fistula through prevention, treatment and social reintegration.
UNFPA has supported more than 85 000 fistula repair surgeries since 2003 and more than 15 000 cases in 2016 alone globally.
But much more needs to be done. More than two million women still live with the condition.
Almost 50 000 to 100 000 develop fistula every year.
It does not have to be this way.
With strong political leadership, investment and action, we can end this scourge in our lifetime.
As we revive our commitment to end fistula among Malawian women through the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, our efforts should aim at preventing it from occurring, repairing and restoring full reproductive health life of the woman and finally, repairing the emotional damage caused by the fistula through appropriate economic empowerment activities. We can overcome obstetric fistula.
Women with fistula lose dignity and all efforts should be directed to restoring the woman’s dignity. It is our responsibility.
Uplifting the poor
Please join us in standing with the world’s poorest, most marginalised women and girls. Together, I am confident that we mobilise the support and commitment needed to transform their lives into stories of hope and healing and rid the world of fistula once and for all. n