UN calls for intensified efforts to end fistula

Fistula survivors who have recently received treatment now participate in a livelihood programme in National Center for Fistula Treatment, N'Djamena, Chad. The programme aims to successfully reintegrate survivors into their communities. © UNFPA/Ollivier Girard
  • 23 December 2014

UNITED NATIONS, New York – The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a resolution calling for increased actions to end obstetric fistula. The largely preventable condition is estimated to afflict some 2 million women around the world – most of them marginalized, impoverished and without access to essential maternal health services.

Obstetric fistula is an injury caused by prolonged, obstructed labour. The condition typically leaves women incontinent, and as a result they are often shunned by their communities. Unable to find jobs and abandoned by their families, many fistula survivors face deepening poverty and stigma.

The UNFPA-backed resolution, adopted on 18 December, calls on the international community to intensify technical and financial support to maternal health efforts, including action to eliminate fistula, before the end of 2015. The end of next year is the deadline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, including Goal 5, which calls for improving maternal health.

“The resolution is important for millions of women suffering the pain and shame of fistula,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA.

Increasing treatment and prevention

There are an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 new cases of fistula per year. Many women live with the condition for years – or even decades – because they cannot afford to obtain treatment.

The UNFPA-led Campaign to End Fistula currently supports about half of all surgical fistula repairs in developing countries. Since 2003, the Campaign has supported more than 47,000 fistula repairs.

But fistula survivors often require assistance beyond just treatment. Those who have been ostracized often need help developing income-generating skills so they can successfully return to their communities and rebuild their lives.

And the best cure is prevention: Skilled birth attendance by a doctor, nurse or midwife, and access to timely emergency care in the case of a complication, can help prevent fistula from occurring in the first place.

Working with more than 90 partners in more than 50 countries, the Campaign to End Fistula strives to make obstetric fistula as rare in developing countries as it is in industrialized nations, where ready access to emergency obstetric care has made the condition all but disappear.

Stepping up efforts

The resolution also calls for improved registration and follow-up for fistula survivors to improve their access to medical treatment and to ensure they are able to receive obstetric care during future pregnancies.

“With the backing of the international community, UNFPA and its partners in the Campaign to End Fistula can continue to step up our efforts to prevent fistula and treat and re-integrate fistula survivors,” said Dr. Osotimehin.

The resolution was co-sponsored by more than 150 Member States and was adopted by consensus.

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