UNFPA Seeks to Fight Fistula in Africa

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched a two-year campaign to tackle obstetric fistula in 12 sub-Saharan African countries. According to the UNFPA, “obstetric fistula is the most devastating of all pregnancy-related disabilities and affects about 50,000-100,000 African women each year.”

The campaign will focus on prevention and treatment by raising awareness in various communities on the causes and effects of obstetric fistulas and providing medical centers with the necessary supplies and training. According to the UNFPA Executive Director, Thoraya Obaid, “UNFPA hopes that this campaign will help to eventually make fistulas as rare in Africa as they are in other parts of the world.” The cost of the surgery is estimated to be US $350 with a success rate of 90 percent.

Obstetric fistula mainly affects girls ages 15-19. Approximately two million girls around the world are currently living with the condition. The UNFPA describes obstetric fistula as an injury to the pelvic organs that most often occurs when a young girl undergoes long and obstructed labor, sometimes for as long as 5 days. Often, the girl is poor and 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. IRIN news reports that these women are often abandoned by their husbands and are forced to live alone because of the stigma attached to the problem.

In Ethiopia, 8,000 women suffer from obstetric fistula annually. The Addis Abada Fistula Hospital, in Ethiopia, will be used as a model for other countries to treat and prevent obstetric fistula. Dr. Catherine Hamlin and her husband founded the hospital in the 1970s. Approximately, 20,000 women have been treated at the Addis Abada Fistula Hospital.

In a move that could cost the lives of tens of thousands of women and children around the globe, President Bush officially withheld $34 million in funds for the UNFPA. Bush’s decision was made based on unsubstantiated claims by the extremist right-wing group Population Research International (PRI) that the UNFPA supports forced abortions in China. UNFPA works on a range of family planning, maternal, and prenatal care issues. Despite the fact that Bush’s own handpicked investigative team found no evidence to back PRI’s claim, Bush still would not release the funds to the UNFPA, which provides crucial family planning and health services to women in many developing countries, including Ethiopia.

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UNFPA 11/01/02; IRIN News 11/7/02; Feminist Daily News Wire

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