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Fistula Program graduates 35 survivors

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The Fistula Rehabilitation and Reintegration Center in Bong County Friday graduated 35 survivors from its skills training program at a touching ceremony held at the Phebe Hospital and School of Nursing outside Gbarnga.

Graduates burst in tears as they sang a special chorus explaining the pains, denials, stigma and embarrassments they endured prior to the surgeries and rehabilitation after they were neglected by friends, spouses and family members.

Attendants on the platform and in the audience could also be seen either sobbing or fighting to hold back tears as survivors emotionally sang the lines. The graduates are all survivors of obstetric fistula, a condition that normally arises from complications during child birth; leading victims to abnormally discharge bodily wastes, including urine and/or feces.

“Lack of funding and the Ebola crisis have slowed our activities” said Dr. John Mulbah, Fistula Project Coordinator, in his preview of the 2016 program during the ceremony. This statement was reechoed by the Head Trainer of the Project Madam Sao M. Johnson-Draper, who underscored the need to expand the rehabilitation facilities at the Phebe Hospital and School of Nursing in order to accommodate as many fistula survivors as possible.

Mrs. Draper spoke of a backlog of cases around the country in dire need of surgery and rehabilitation, but regrettably noted that most of them may not be admitted due to limited capacity. “At the moment the program has only 30 beds, so we cannot take in more than that number despite the numerous calls we receive from around the country from women needing surgery and rehabilitation” she said.

The program’s lead trainer then made a passionate plea with former Health and Social Welfare Minister Dr. Walter Gwenigale under whose administration the program was conceived and birthed, to intercede on their behalf in order to attract more support.

Dr. Gwenigale positively responded saying though he was no longer in authority; he would help the project seek support for additional beds based on the persistent pleas. He made a cash donation of USD 200.00 to the project to be used toward the purchase of additional beds.

He then pleaded with graduates and the audience to serve as goodwill ambassadors in wooing more support to the project, adding, “we look forward today to seeing a fistula free Liberia”. For his part, Assistant Health Minister and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sampson Azoaquoi thanked the Phebe Hospital for its involvement in the Fistula Project, hinting that the condition affecting child bearing mothers is a strong pointer that something is wrong with the country’s health system.

Dr. Azoaquoi lamented the increasing incidence of maternal deaths in Liberia which currently stands at 1072 per 100,000 live births.

According to him, most health care centers around the country are not manned by trained practitioners, a problem he said health authorities have gone to the drawing board to address.The keynote address was delivered by the Chief of Medical Staff at the Phebe Hospital Dr. Kormassah Tennih, who noted conflict between entrenched traditional practices and child bearing, which she said sometimes lead to women in labor pains running into complications during deliveries.

She named one as the belief in many cultural settings that attending to women in labor pains is purely a female business. “This often prevents women in labor pains from seeking early medical attention”, Dr. Tennih added.
Also making comments at the ceremony was the UNFPA Fistula Focal Person, Mrs. Esther Lincoln, who charged survivors to help educate other women and prevent them from passing through the terrible experience they (survivors) have endured.
Mrs. Lincoln also urged them to utilize health facilities and plan their families in order to avert recurrence of the condition.
As they step out, she said the Fistula Project heavily depends on survivors to serve as goodwill ambassadors in their respective communities.
Survivors were later given starter kits in line with their individual vocations and USD 100.00 each to help them begin life.
In total, 35 received vocations in Cosmetology, Pastry/Home Economics, Soap Making and tailoring.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is the main funder of the program which has treated and rehabilitated nearly 2000 fistula survivors respectively since its inception in 2008. Press release

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