UNITED Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) executive director, Babatunde Osotimehin has issued an impassioned plea to Lesotho and other developing countries to redouble their efforts to prevent Obstetric fistula in women and girls.
Dr Osotimehin made the call in a statement on Tuesday to mark the International Day to End Obstetric fistula.
Obstetric fistula is a medical condition in which a fistula (hole) develops between either the rectum and vagina (see rectovaginal fistula), the ureter and the vagina, or between the bladder and vagina after prolonged, severe or failed childbirth.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Women who experience obstetric fistula suffer constant incontinence, shame, social segregation and health problems”.
“It is estimated that more than 2 million young women live with untreated obstetric fistula in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
“The development of obstetric fistula is directly linked to one of the major causes of maternal mortality: obstructed labour,” WHO says on its website.
Dr Osotimehin said he had followed total transformation of two women’s lives in Malawi and Kenya.
“Alice, from Malawi, 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. I have no words to 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,” Dr Osotimehin said.
He said that while these were stories of hope, they were also tragic stories as both women should have never endured the decades of discomfort and shame that could have been so easily prevented.
He said the time has come to put an end to this suffering wherever it occurs.
Dr Osotimehin said this year’s theme Hope, healing, and dignity for all was a call to realise the fundamental human rights of all women and girls everywhere, with a special focus on those who were left behind, excluded and shunned by society.
“Ending fistula is a high priority for UNFPA and it is a key step on the road to achieving the world’s Sustainable Development Goals 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,” he said.
He added that working with their partners in the campaign to end fistula, the UNFPA had made progress towards eliminating fistula through prevention, treatment and social reintegration.
He said UNFPA has supported more than 85 000 fistula repair surgeries since 2003 and more than 15 000 cases in 2016 alone.
“It doesn’t have to be this way. With strong political leadership, investment and action, we can end this scourge in our lifetime. Please join us in standing with the world’s poorest, most marginalised women and girls. Together, I am confident that we can 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,” he said.