Time to end obstetric fistula suffering - UNFPA Deputy Representative says

BY: Kate Baaba Hudson
Deputy Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Ms Erika Goldson
Deputy Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Ms Erika Goldson

The Deputy Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Ms Erika Goldson, has said it is time to end the needless suffering caused by obstetric fistula, in keeping with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030.

She said the UNFPA was committed to ending obstetric fistula in Ghana and would continue to work with the government, the National Obstetric Fistula Task Team and all partners to make it a reality.

The UNFPA, therefore, requires the continuous efforts of all in this bold endeavour and urges all to ensure human rights, well-being and dignity for all and help support the most marginalised, forgotten and voiceless and ensure that no one is left behind in their efforts.

Ms Goldson said this when she addressed a fundraising event for obstetric fistula, organised by the Norwegian Embassy in<\p>Accra and the North American Women’s Association (NAWA).

The deputy representative noted that obstetric fistula was a devastating childbirth injury caused by prolonged, obstructed labour, which was silently robbing millions of women and girls of their health, hope and dignity globally.

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Failed obstetrics

Essentially, Ms Goldson said, fistula was failed obstetrics, adding that it was a sign that somewhere, somehow our systems, whether institutional or community-based, had betrayed the mother. She regretted that fistula often left girls and women incontinent and often stigmatised and isolated from their families and communities.

“The smell of leaking urine, faeces or both was constant and humiliating, often driving the patients' families, friends and neighbours away. If the situation is unattended to, it could cause chronic medical problems, including ulcerations, kidney disease and nerve damage in the legs, of the patient,” she said.

Without proper treatment, women with an obstetric fistula could face a lifetime of suffering, often abandoned by their husbands and families and find themselves effectively ostracised from society.

While girls drop out of school, women cannot work and simple things like getting on a bus becomes an ordeal because of the smell associated with it and people shun them and their husbands even leave them.

“Usually, surgery can repair the injury with an average cost of treatment and post-operative care of around $400, but unfortunately, a lot of the patients who are faced with this condition are unaware that treatment exists and often times they are unable to afford it,” Ms Goldson added.

She stressed that fistula, which had been virtually eliminated in wealthier countries, was a serious human rights violation in our part of the world, a reflection of the many barriers to accessing timely and quality health care, and a tragic sign of social injustice and inequity.

Flagship programme

With a mission of delivering a world where every pregnancy was wanted and every childbirth was safe, and every young person’s potential was fulfilled, she said, they understood why they were so privileged and honoured to be partnering with NAWA in the fundraising event for one of their flagship programmes <\a> The Obstetric Fistula Programme.

She pointed out that the UNFPA acknowledged the contribution of the Norwegian government as a generous donor to their core funds, for which they were thankful, adding that they were cognisant of the recommendations made with regard to the Universal Periodic Reviews, particularly in the areas of gender identity, rights of the child, torture, women's rights and trafficking.

“UNFPA is already supporting the implementation of some of these recommendations, particularly in the areas of the rights of women and children - Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), domestic violence and child marriage - and will continue to do so, working with the government and all partners to take on board the recommendations,” she said.

Ms Goldson expressed appreciation to the Norwegian Ambassador, Mr Gunnar Andreas Holm [pictured above] and his wife Mrs Audhild Rosberg, for their passion and incredible support towards hosting the programme. In his address, the Ambassador expressed appreciation to UNFPA and NAWA for the roles they were playing in raising awareness and providing support for women and girls suffering from fistula.