A new program in Sierra Leon, established by the Gloag Foundation, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and Airtel, enables women to call a toll-free number and speak with nurses to determine whether they are eligible to receive treatment for fistulas. Since the hotline was launched in October, 119 women have undergone treatment, with an 85 percent rate of success.

Ann Gloag of the Gloag Foundation stated, “This approach might be very effective to recruit fistula patients—always a challenge considering the stigma associated with the condition—and, perhaps, a useful approach in other countries as well.”

Sia Koroma, first lady of Sierra Leon remarked, “Most of the women living with fistula are uneducated. They live in the countryside with little or no access to health facilities, ante-natal or post-natal care. The situation is particularly difficult for girls, who are not physically mature and are especially vulnerable to complications in childbirth.” Obstetric fistula primarily affects girls ages 15-19. Approximately one in eight pregnant in Sierra Leon develop a fistula.

The UNFPA describes obstetric fistula as an injury to the pelvic organs that most often occurs when a young woman undergoes long and obstructed labor, sometimes for as long as 5 days. Often, the woman cannot reach or afford the necessary medical care, which then causes her to suffer extensive tissue damage that eventually leads to the death of the baby. Another problem associated with obstetric fistula is that the injury also causes women to lose control of their bowels and bladder unless treated appropriately.

UNFPA 12/12/11; Feminist Daily Newswire 2/13/04