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International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, 23 May 2021

FREETOWN, 23 May 2021-The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Sierra Leone has Joined the world in commemorating the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula (IDEOF), a day set aside by the United Nations General Assembly to stimulate world-wide actions to avert and end obstetric fistula. In passing the resolution in support of the campaign, the UN General Assembly acknowledged the plight of millions of women and girls living with obstetric fistula by designating 23 May as the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula. The Day was observed for the first time in 2013 and has been observed annually with varying themes.

The theme for this year’s commemoration is “Women’s rights are human rights! End Fistula now"! This year’s theme highlights obstetric fistula as a human rights violation whose elimination depends, in large part, on securing women's and girls' rights including the right to access sexual and reproductive health services. The theme amplifies the fact that obstetric fistula arises from failure of the health system to meet the right of women and girls to have access to quality Sexual Reproductive Health services.

Obstetric fistula is a medical condition resulting from injuries sustained by pregnant women during childbirth (especially when labour is prolonged), leading to the development of an opening between the birth canal and the urinary system and/or the rectum resulting in constant leakage of urine or faeces. This condition leads to women being stigmatised, abandoned by their loved ones, and socially isolated and often develop depression.

UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, in collaboration with the Government of Sierra Leone through the Ministry of Health and Sanitation  is using this year’s occasion to reflect on the improvements made in the health sector, particularly in caring for  mothers during pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal period, including the women we have lost during childbirth, and others who have ended up with complications such as obstetric fistula and identifying the gaps in the health system. Awareness is being raised on fistula, with various partners renewing their commitments to end fistula and new political and financial support for the Campaign to End Fistula being generated.

Whilst it has been nearly eliminated in developed nations, hundreds of thousands of women and girls live with the condition in developing countries like Sierra Leone. Although it remains a devastating condition, it is preventable through the provision of quality care at birth and, in most cases, can be repaired surgically.

Globally, UNFPA leads the campaign to end obstetric fistula, which aims at addressing fistula by supporting the identification of affected women, providing surgical treatment, psychosocial support, and income generating skills to enable social re-integration.

Sierra Leone is one of 55 countries participating in the global campaign launched in 2003. The country is estimated to have 2,400 women living with obstetric fistula. UNFPA continues to partner with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and other local agencies to provide care and support to survivors of obstetric fistula over the past years.

In 2020, with funding from the Government of Iceland, UNFPA worked with the NGOs Haikal Foundation and Aberdeen Women’s Centre to conduct community mobilization activities in selected communities. In the same year, 260 women were screened for suspected obstetric fistula and some were found to have other medical conditions. Of these women, 129 had surgery to repair their fistula and restore their dignity. Thirty-one (31) survivors received livelihood skills as part of their rehabilitation and reintegration.

Mindful that obstetric fistula is a direct result of failure by a health system to provide quality health care during child birth, UNFPA continues to support the Government of Sierra Leone to prevent it occurrence by strengthening the quality of obstetric services which is also key to addressing maternal mortality.

In commemorating this year’s IDEOF, UNFPA Sierra Leone Officer-In-Charge, Dr. Nestor Azandegbe said, “it is crucial, that every effort is made to ensure that every childbirth is safe to help eliminate obstetric fistula”. He further said that “UNFPA will continue to provide the needed technical and, where possible, financial resources for the prevention, treatment and social re-integration of fistula survivors in Sierra Leone.”  

Enhancing the service delivery for sexual reproductive health and rights is critical in the campaign to end obstetric fistula. It is imperative that the country deliberately makes appropriate investments towards establishment of a functioning health system for provision of quality sexual and reproductive health services, including appropriate infrastructure and equipment, well-trained health workforce such as midwives who are key to the provision of quality care for women during pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period. Sexual and reproductive health and rights including family planning must be treated as priority issues.

This year’s commemoration will involve high level engagements with stakeholders in Bo city, southern Sierra Leone led by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and will be attended by various key stakeholders.

 

For more information, contact:

John Baimba Sesay

Web and Media Analyst

Email: jsesay@unfpa.org 

Tel: +232 30953193