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UNFPA vows to end fistula

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The United Nations Population Fund or UNFPA, says ending fistula globally remains one of its highest priorities, pledging to continue to accelerate efforts, both in its own work and within the United Nations system to terminate the scourge that has affected many women around the world.

The pledge is contained in a statement released today, Monday, 23 May by United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin in New York, to commemorate the annual International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, as designated by the United Nations General Assembly.

He said obstetric fistula is almost exclusively a condition of the poorest, most vulnerable and most marginalized women and girls, adding that it afflicts those who lack access to the timely, high-quality, and life-saving maternal health care that they so desperately need and deserve, and that is their basic human right.

“As a doctor myself and, most importantly, father to four beloved daughters, I am personally outraged that fistula, which is wholly preventable, still occurs in today’s world”, Dr. Osotimehin expressed. This year’s celebration marking International Day to End Obstetric Fistula is being held on the theme, “End fistula within a generation”.

“As we talk about ending polio, HIV/AIDS, female genital mutilation and so many other forms of suffering”, Dr. Osotimehin further stressed, “so must we commit to stepping up our efforts to end fistula, once and for all. This means heeding the call of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to leave no one behind, especially those most neglected, invisible and powerless, including the women and girls living with fistula. Now is the time, and I am confident we can do it.”

He however acknowledged that the global Campaign to End Fistula, launched in 2003 by UNFPA and partners, has made significant progress towards eliminating fistula and supporting its survivors through prevention, treatment, social reintegration and advocacy.

He disclosed that UNFPA has supported more than 70,000 fistula repair surgeries for women and girls in need, and Campaign partners have enabled many more to receive treatment. “Yet, far more remains to be done. We cannot give up until every woman and girl has the preventive care she needs. We cannot give up until every single woman and girl living with fistula has been treated. We cannot give up until every fistula survivor receives the social reintegration and support services she needs to rebuild her life, reclaim her dignity, and restore her hope and dreams for the future.”

More than 800 women die from pregnancy-related complications every day, and for each woman who dies, 20 or more are injured or disabled. According to UNFPA, one of the most serious injuries of childbearing is obstetric fistula, a hole in the birth canal caused by prolonged, obstructed labour in the absence of timely and adequate medical care. 

Liberia accounts for one of the highest rates of maternal and newborn mortality in the world which stands at 1072/100,000 live births; meaning that about four (4) women die every day as a result of pregnancy related causes. The major causes of these deaths among pregnant women include bleeding, complications of unsafe abortions, infections, eclampsia, and obstructed labor. Other indirect causes are anemia, malaria, HIV and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM).

The Liberia Fistula Project was launched in 2007 by the Government of Liberia in collaboration with UNFPA. The Project activities include Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation. Almost 50 percent of deliveries in Liberia are done outside of health facilities, and the goal of the preventive program is to reduce the incidences of fistula, through health education & awareness and elimination and eradication of bad and harmful traditional practices that often lead to the development of fistula. The programme trains doctors and nurses in providing emergency obstetric care services.

Additionally, over 1,300 patients from all parts of the country have been operated since the launch of the programme by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The programme operates patients at Phebe Hospital and C.B. Dunbar Hospital in Bong County; and the Liberian Government Hospital, Tubmanburg, Bomi County which has a dedicated Fistula Ward.

The Fistula Project in Liberia also operates a Rehabilitation Center at the Phebe Hospital Complex supported by UNFPA. Fistula survivors who have successfully undergone surgeries are often enrolled in the rehabilitation program for easy reintegration in the communities. Press Statement 

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