Campaign will combat tragedy of fistula

Posted: 5 November 2002

An Ethiopian woman who suffered an agonising pregnancy-related disability - known as fistula - and lost her baby, has helped launch a United Nations campaign to tackle this distressing birth injury.

Twelve countries in sub-SaharanAfrica are being targeted as part of the UN Population Fund's $500,000 campaign to tackle obstetric fistula.

The condition mainly afflicts young girls aged between 15 and 19 and UNFPA estimates that around two million women worldwide are currently living with the complaint. In Ethiopia alone around 8,000 women each year suffer from the problem.

Ethiopia is home to the world-renowned Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital which helps train doctors from across the globe. The hospital will be used as a model for other countries.

UNFPA says an obstetric fistula is an injury to the pelvic organs which most often occurs when a very young girl experiences a long and obstructed labour, sometimes up to five days. With no access to medical care, the girl suffers extensive tissue damage to her birth canal and the baby usually dies.

The devastating injury also means women lose control of their bladder and bowels unless treated. The women often find themselves abandoned by their husbands and forced to live alone because of the stigma attached.

Dr Naren Patel, vice-president of the International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, said UNFPA is the first international body to help combat the injury.

"The tragic part is that most young women living with fistulas today are either unaware that treatment is available or cannot afford the surgery," Dr Patel added.

He estimates that the injury can be treated with success rates in excess of 90 per cent and costs around US $350. His organisation is providing US $250,000 to back the UNFPA campaign.

The two-year UN-sponsored campaign will focus on prevention and treatment. Medics will be trained to perform surgery and provide care.

Benin, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia will all have programmes under the UNFPA project.

Source: PlanetWire; UN Integrated Regional Information Networks and IPPF (4 November, 2002)