On May 23, 2013, the world will be marking the first-ever International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, as recently designated by the United Nations General Assembly. This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the Campaign to End Fistula, which was launched by UNFPA, in collaboration with a wide range of partners.
The Campaign is currently active in more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia, the Arab states and Latin America. Over that decade, UNFPA has directly supported over 34,000 women and girls to receive surgical fistula treatment, while partner agencies have supported thousands more.
Countries around the world mark fistula day with a variety of events intended to raise awareness of this severely neglected health and human rights tragedy, highlight progress made over the last decade, and generate new political and financial support for the global movement to end the condition. These events will include a special observance at the United Nations in New York, with the participation of fistula survivors, in addition to advocates and practitioners who have dedicated their careers to put an end to this devastating condition.
So what exactly is Fistula?
Fistulae are holes that are created between the vaginal wall and the bladder, and holes created between the vaginal wall and the rectum. Fistula is a childbirth injury caused by prolonged obstructed labor.
How are these holes formed?
These holes are formed as a result of pregnancy and child birth. Labor becomes obstructed due to female genital mutilation (FGM), or by child marriage and early pregnancy.
What are the effects of Fistula?
Vesicovaginal fistula causes urinary incontinence and / or fecal incontinence due to rectovaginal fistula and related conditions, such as dermatitis. If nerves to the lower limbs are damaged, women may suffer from paralysis of the lower half of the body. Many victims of obstructed labor in which the fistulae subsequently occur, will also have given birth to a stillborn baby.
What are the social effects of Fistula?
In spite of one’s best efforts to stay clean, the smell of leaking urine or feces is hard to eliminate and difficult to ignore. The dampness causes rashes and infections. The cleaning up is constant, and pain or discomfort may be continuous as well. The grief of losing a child and becoming disabled exacerbates the pain.
The injury leaves women with few opportunities to earn a living, and many have to rely on others to survive, or turn to begging or commercial sex. In some communities they are not allowed to have anything to do with food preparation and may be excluded from prayer or other religious observances. Some are abandoned by their husbands.
Facts and Stats about Fistula.
- At least two million women live with fistula in developing countries, with about 100,000 new cases occurring each year. These figures are based only on the number of women who seek treatment.
- The average cost of fistula treatment—including surgery, post-operative care and rehabilitation support—is $400, which is well beyond the reach of most women with the condition.
- Fistula can be treated and women can have a normal life after treatment.
- Fistula has virtually been eliminated in Europe and North America through improved obstetric care.