Today marks the first ever fistula day and we have been reminded by The Huffington Post of how dire the situation is for women in childbirth by their list of the ten most difficult places to be a mother.
Sierra Leone ranks as the seventh worst place followed by Nigeria in eighth position. The lack of fully equipped hospitals and clinics seem to be the main problem as women share horrific stories of their experiences with traditional birth attendants. And where the care is readily available (mostly private hospitals), far too many cannot afford it.
Today countries all over the world will mark fistula day with a variety of events to raise awareness.
What makes this year’s observance more remarkable is that it coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Campaign to End Fistula, which was launched by UNFPA, in collaboration with a wide range of partners. The Campaign is currently active in more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia, the Arab states and Latin America. Over that decade, UNFPA has directly supported over 34,000 women and girls to receive surgical fistula treatment; its partner agencies have supported thousands more.
Obstetric fistula affects approximately two million women and girls worldwide, endangering their lives and ostracizing them from their communities. The good news is we already know how to solve the problem. Through prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation, this global health crisis can end once and for all, and make the problem as rare in the developing world as it is in Western Europe and North America. The first annual Day to End Obstetric Fistula is an important step toward that goal.
Check out the following Public Service Announcement by Natalie Imbruglia:
As she says, the good news is that preventing and correcting fistula is possible. In Sierra Leone the Aberdeen Women’s Centre in Freetown provides the only comprehensive fistula repair service in Sierra Leone and can treat up to 600 fistula patients a year. In October 2011 the centre launched a FREE hotline which has helped to identify and treat women suffering from fistula from all over Sierra Leone. The hotline which is in partnership with Airtel is the first of its kind in the country.
The Centre takes a holistic approach to the care of women and children and in 2010 opened its own maternity unit to provide the highest standards of maternal healthcare for the women of Sierra Leone, thus preventing the occurrence of obstetric fistula in the first instance and ensuring a safe environment for childbirth.
More than 100 babies are safely delivered each month and the Centre has an approved training programme for local midwives which will contribute to the development of long-term, sustainable maternity care in the country. In addition, the Aberdeen Women’s Centre runs a children’s clinic which treats more than 12,000 children each year, providing a primary care facility for children in the surrounding community aged 12 and under, including immunisations and health education.
The Aberdeen Women’s Centre is a self-contained facility and more than 90% of the staff are Sierra Leone nationals who report to the Country Director, who oversees the management of the Centre. The Centre is supported by The Gloag Foundation, the Freedom From Fistula Foundation and Engender Health.