Speech

Securing Health, Hope and Dignity for All: Ending Obstetric Fistula within a Generation

18 September 2017

Opening remarks by UNFPA Acting Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem at a side event on the margins of the 72nd Session of the General Assembly.

[As prepared for delivery]

Excellencies,
Honorable Ministers,
Distinguished Guests,
Partners and Friends,

Good evening! It is my sincere pleasure to welcome you here tonight to our UNFPA/Campaign to End Fistula event: "Securing Health, Hope and Dignity for All to Achieve the SDGs: Ending Obstetric Fistula within a Generation".

Obstetric fistula is an issue that has deeply touched my heart, and I am honored to be here with you to host this session.

As a medical doctor myself and as the former Representative for UNFPA in Tanzania, I have seen firsthand the devastating and needless suffering caused by obstetric fistula. And I have heard the most heartbreaking stories. Including one about a young woman who was suffering from fistula for over 8 years before she was able to get to the hospital in Dar es Salaam to receive surgical treatment.

When the doctor asked her what happened, and why it took her 8 years to seek surgery… whether she was unaware that such treatment was available… the young woman responded: No, she was aware. But it took her all those years to save up the bus fare to get to the hospital.

And her story is not unusual. More than two million women still live with the condition, and 50,000 to 100,000 develop fistula every year.

My friends, it is long past time to put an end to such suffering. UNFPA is committed to bringing about the end of fistula within a generation. We invite you all to commit with us and join our Campaign to End Fistula.

Fistula has been virtually eliminated in the world’s wealthier countries, so we know that it can be done. Strong health systems and greater efforts to address the issues that perpetuate it, including poverty, gender inequality, early marriage and childbearing, and lack of education, are crucial.

As the United Nations and the global community, we have a new vision for “the world we want”. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a bold call to action to leave no one behind, especially those most neglected, invisible and powerless.

At UNFPA, we have built our new Strategic Plan around this call – to achieve transformative results for women and girls and to transform the lives of those furthest behind. Ending the health and human rights tragedy of obstetric fistula is part of our commitment.

We cannot rest until obstetric fistula is a thing of the past and every fistula survivor is healed and supported to rebuild her life, reclaim her dignity, and realize her hopes and dreams for the future. And I, for one, am full of hope that, together, we can make this happen.

Thank you.