The Liberia Fistula Project, funded by the United Nations Population Fund graduates 13 fistula survivors from its rehabilitation program. The fistula survivors received 6-month training in tailoring, pastry, cosmetology as well as soap-making. The graduates are all survivors of obstetric fistula; a condition that arises from complications during child birth; leading victims to abnormally discharge bodily wastes including urine and/or feces.
During the graduation ceremony on Thursday, 14 September held on Phebe Hospital compound in Bong County, the fistula survivors received starter kits in line with their individual vocations; USD 100.00 each to help them begin life and mobile phones for easy tracking by the project. The Director of Family Health Division at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Joseph Kerkula, laments that the reduction of maternal mortality remained a major challenge for Liberia.
“Fistula is a byproduct of poor maternal health which we must work to improve;” Dr. Kerkula noted. He stresses that family planning is the answer to lowering maternal deaths and ending obstetric fistula in Liberia. “We have a very youthful population; and effective family planning is the answer to ensuring that young girls have babies by choice and not by chance;” he says.
Delivering the keynote address, Dr. Momolu Massaley, calls for the total involvement of traditional and religious leaders in the reduction of maternal deaths and elimination of obstetric fistula in Liberia. “We need fistula prevention awareness in places of worship to break the often associated myth that obstetric fistula is due to witchcraft or bad luck;” the OB/GYN Resident Doctor at Phebe Hospital noted.
The United Nations Population Fund or UNFPA Assistant Representative and Officer-in-Charge here, Dr. Philderald Pratt, says it is a grave injustice that around the world, in the 21st century, the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalized women and girls suffer needlessly from a devastating condition that has been wiped out of the industrialized world.
“The persistence of fistula is a result of the denial of human rights. The failure to address obstetric fistula is a human rights failure and the woman or girl affected by fistula is doubly victimized: in the circumstances of its cause and in the consequences of its aftermath;” Dr. Pratt said. “To end fistula, we must ensure universal access to quality sexual and reproductive health services; eliminate gender-based social and economic inequities; prevent child marriage and early childbearing; promote education and broader human rights; and foster community participation in finding solutions, including through the active involvement of men as well as seeking the help of fistula survivors as advocates;” the UNFPA Assistant Representative notes.
Dr. Pratt reaffirms UNFPA’s commitment to ensuring that obstetric fistula is eliminated from Liberia. UNFPA leads and coordinates the Campaign to End Fistula – representing more than 90 partner agencies at the global level and many hundreds of others at the national and community levels. Over the last 14 years, UNFPA has directly supported more than 70,000 surgical repairs for women and girls, while partner agencies have supported thousands more. The Campaign is present in more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia, the Arab Region and Latin America.
Here, the Liberia Fistula Project was launched in 2007 by the Government through the Ministry of Health with funding from UNFPA. Since its launch, the program has treated and rehabilitated more than 1500 and 400 fistula survivors respectively.
The project runs a Fistula Rehabilitation and Reintegration Center in Phebe, Bong County to ensure that there is proper follow-up and development of vocational skills to assist patients easily reintegrate in the communities after treatment. The Center provides space for emotional healing and support services including counseling; trains women and girls in life skills, income-generating activities/business skills training – to support them reintegrate in their communities after treatment.
Meanwhile, the Liberia Fistula Project Rehabilitation and Reintegration Center has dedicated a new training hall for the rehabilitation of fistula survivors. The construction of the six-classroom building was financed by UNFPA and Chevron Liberia.