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ECOWAS calls for end to obstetric fistula

The Head for Social Affairs and Gender at the ECOWAS Commission Dr. Fatimata DIA SOW, is calling on member states to speed up the implementation of suitable solutions to ending obstetric fistula in the sub-region.

Speaking in Monrovia on Wednesday, 24 May at ceremony to mark the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, Dr. Sow notes that health situation in West Africa is marked by a high infant mortality ranging from 26 to 16 percent, depending on which country, and a maternal mortality rate of 11 percent, the highest in the world.

“There are many direct causes of materiality mortality, including those linked to precarious health conditions during delivery, lack of access to emergency obstetrical care and late recourse to care to name but a few. Studies have shown that the factors responsible for maternal mortality are the same ones that cause obstetric fistula. More specifically, obstetric fistula is caused by the lack of pre-natal consultation, the lack of supervision of childbirth by suitable services and to long labour before birth. In addition to the above, there is illiteracy of women and girls, poverty and the persistence of harmful traditional practices such as female circumcision and early marriage and motherhood, with the age of first union ranging from 15 to 18 years”, she said.

Dr. SOW laments that despite efforts by member countries to improve the reproductive health of women and girls, the region is still among the zones with the highest number of women with fistula, with 50,000 to 100,000 cases per year, citing a 2009 World Health Organization report.

The celebration organized in partnership with the Government of Liberia and the United Nations Population Fund, was held on the theme, “ECOWAS Restoring Hope and Dignity for Fistula Survivors” at the Monrovia City Hall in Sinkor 1st Street.

Liberia’s Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai, who addressed the opening ceremony, says the government has formulated policies, which are being implemented through the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, respectively to address the growing number of obstetric fistula victims in the country. One statistics puts the official figure at 3,000.
Vice President Boakai recalls that since 2007, the Liberia Fistula Project has providedlife-saving surgery and support services to re-integrate women intotheir families and communities.

He explains that the project is being managed by the Ministry of Health in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Zonta International.
The Vice President reveals over 1,500 women have undergone surgery, and many of them are living productive lives in the communities that once abandoned them, noting “We can take thisas appreciable success.

A statement from UNFPA Executive Director in New York, Dr. Babantunde Osotimeh in read on his behalf by Country Representative Dr. Oluremi Sogunro, says ending fistula is a high priority for UNFPA and it is a key step on the road to achieving world’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

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“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”, says the UNFPA Executive Director.

Meanwhile, ECOWAS has presented symbolic checks to the Government of Liberia for US$80,000 as its contribution to the fistula fight here. Story

-by Jonathan Browne

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