The United Nations Population Fund has called for concerted efforts to end “needless suffering” caused by obstetric fistula—a childbirth injury caused by prolonged, obstructed labour without prompt medical attention.
It says ending fistula would help keep with the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.
In a statement to mark the 5th International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, UNFPA executive director Natalia Kanem called for the world to “commit to putting the furthest behind first and ensuring human rights, well being and dignity for all.”
She said the condition was “silently robbing millions of women and girls of their health, hope and dignity.’
This year’s theme Leaving no one behind: let us commit to ending fistula now! “underscores the stark reality that failing to eliminate fistula jeopardizes the world’s chances of attaining many of these goals,” said Kanem. “We have come a long way.”
More than 800 women die daily from pregnancy-related complications.
For every woman who dies, at least 20 are injured or disabled.
Fistula is one of the most serious injuries of childbirth. It has been eliminated in developed countries, but up to 2 million women and girls in developing countries still live with the condition.
Between 50,000 and 100,000 new cases are estimated to occur each year—many of them preventable and easily repaired through surgery.
But many of the women living with the condition will never receive treatment because services are absent or expensive.
Philanthropic efforts have helped surgeons repair hundreds of thousands of women like Cameroonian Amina Mba.
After being married off as a child, she became pregnant at 13 and developed fistula due to obstructed labour.
The condition left Amina incontinent, and the stigma left her alone to fend for herself, after being abandoned by her husband and family, UNFPA in its citation of Amina as a case study.
She lived with it for seven years until she was repaired last year.
“Many women and girls who suffer from fistula are ostracized from daily community life and abandoned by their husbands and families, isolating them socially and emotionally, also making it difficult to maintain sources of income or support, thus deepening their poverty and magnifying their suffering,” said Kanem.
“The persistence of fistula reflects broader health inequities and health-care system constraints, as well as wider challenges facing women and girls, such as poverty, gender and socioeconomic inequality, lack of schooling, child marriage and early childbearing, all of which impede the well-being of and opportunities for women and girls.”
UNFPA’s call requires that efforts be stepped up to ensure every potential new case of fistula is prevented and every woman or girl suffering from fistula is treated and receives adequate follow-up, social reintegration and rehabilitation support.
The UN agency says it is grave injustice that in the 21st century, the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalised women and girls suffer needlessly from a devastating condition that is both preventable and largely treatable.