End Fistula, Health, Live Coverage, Sustainable Development
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Uncovering the Epidemic of Obstetric Fistula

Obstetric Fistula is very real. It is the reality of an estimated 2 million women who have endured pregnancy and prolonged obstructed labour. These women often deliver their babies without a midwife and may lose their baby during childbirth. To make matters worse, these women suffer from incontinence, leaking urine or faeces, and sometimes both. In many cases, women are seen as outcasts by their family, neighbours and society. Women with fistula suffer pain and loneliness, which may lead to shame, humiliation and psychological instability.

Obstetric fistula—a hole between the bladder and the vagina or the rectum, or both—is a childbirth injury caused by prolonged, obstructed labour, without timely medical intervention; typically, a Caesarean section. The baby almost always dies during labour. (Definition by the Campaign to End Fistula)

The good news is obstetric fistula can be prevented and treated. Through surgery, women can be physically healed. Women who have access to counseling and emotional support can socially reintegrate into their communities and dignity can be restored.

The surgeons operating on women with fistula are passionate individuals. Surgeons not only help restore the lives of women who have lost their dignity, they also work in the most low-resource (and sometimes dangerous) settings to reach the women (and girls) affected by fistula.

However, the amount of women who receive treatment and care is limited, leaving a large backlog of women who are forced to continue living with this condition. It is estimated that 50,000 to 100,000 new cases of fistula occur each year.

Odette Kusiku Mbaku Maswaku, 40 years old. Odette was in labour for 3 days and developed obstetric fistula.  Photo Credit: Robin Hammond/Panos. Kinshasa, DR Congo. March 2010 - UNFPA

Odette Kusiku Mbaku Maswaku, 40 years old. Odette was in labour for 3 days and developed obstetric fistula.
Photo Credit: Robin Hammond/Panos. Kinshasa, DR Congo. March 2010 – UNFPA

Fistula is part of an underlying global problem of inequality.

Approximately, 290,000 women die each year during pregnancy or childbirth. For every woman who dies 20 more are affected by life-altering morbidities like fistula. In addition, 2.9 million newborns die and an estimated 2.6 million babies are stillborn each year. Most of these deaths occur in the lowest-income countries and in areas affected by conflict and other emergencies.

Geographical inequalities for women exist due to a difference in access, availability and affordability of healthcare, family planning, and education. Women, girls and families in the poorest areas are the most at risk of becoming part of these horrifying statistics.

These women are more than a statistic!

Women are struggling to survive with obstetric fistula, and families are ripped apart when losing a mother in pregnancy or childbirth. Due to where they were born, it is a very real and occurring scenario – the risk of dying when giving life. But these women are pillars of their families and societies, and are the key to unlocking development and eradicating extreme poverty.

The large majority of maternal and newborn deaths can be prevented! We can not let more women and newborns die and suffer needlessly, hidden away under poverty and conflict.

As we are nearing the due date of the Millennium Development Goals, we must ensure that our leaders take action for the future. The health and rights of women and newborns must be an integral part of the Post-2015 agenda, and a top priority for our world today.

An Ethiopian woman recovers from life-changing fistula surgery at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  Photo Credit: Lucy Perry/Hamlin Fistula Relief and Aid Fund Australia

An Ethiopian woman recovers from life-changing fistula surgery at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Photo Credit: Lucy Perry/Hamlin Fistula Relief and Aid Fund Australia

Join the Conversation

Join Girls’ Globe and partners as we continue the conversation throughout the year on the importance of stepping up progress for the health and rights of women, girls and newborns. Together with Johnson & Johnson, FHI 360, and many partners from around the globe, we will be sharing live coverage from global meetings and news on new reports in the months ahead.

  • Raise your voice using #EndFistula
  • Sign up to receive Daily Deliveries during the ICM Congress, PMNCH Partners Forum and UN General Assembly Week.
  • Follow the online conversation on the importance of midwives and live coverage during the ICM 30th Triennial Congress using #ICMLive
  • Follow the online conversation on maternal, newborn and child health, and live coverage of the PMNCH Partners Forum using #PMNCHLive

Additional Resources

3 Comments

    • Dear Farahnaz, thank you so much for sharing that inspiring article and for raising your voice for women and girls. Dr Shershah and his colleagues in Karachi are doing an amazing job to provide care for women and we must continue to support such commitments so that all women who need care can afford and access treatment.

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