Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, Nigeria — For the 35 women and young girls clad in orange UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund t-shirts, it felt like early Christmas in the middle of April, as they prepared to re-join their families after undergoing successful surgeries to repair obstetric fistula. And to see them off at the Ebonyi health centre was the State First Lady, Josephine Elechi, and the UNFPA Representative in Nigeria, Victoria Akyeampong.
Ebonyi State, located in south-eastern Nigeria, has a population of more than two million people who espouse deep-rooted traditional norms, values and practices. The state, which has poor socio-economic indicators, suffers from a high prevalence of fistula, compared to the surrounding states. Its First Lady, Ms. Elechi, has long been active in addressing maternal and child health. In 2008, she established the Mother and Child Care Initiative (MCCI), where the ceremony was taking place.
Since its establishment, MCCI has partnered with UNFPA, USAID, UNICEF and others to provide free safe motherhood services and to address maternal morbidity issues, including obstetric fistula and uterine prolapse.
Kori Habib reported from Nigeria. Edits by Omar Gharzeddine. Photos: UNFPA Nigeria.
Speaking at the discharge ceremony, the First Lady said that, with support from UNFPA and other donors, the centre has so far treated more than 1,600 fistula patients from more than 20 states, as well as 195 women with uterine prolapse. Another 2,000 women received free screening for cervical and breast cancer. Because of its services to the community, MCCI was designated as a National Center for Excellence in 2011.
At the ceremony, Ms. Akyeampong, the UNFPA Resident Representative, paid tribute to First Lady Elechi and her efforts to improve the health of mothers and the vulnerable. She also called on all partners to work collectively on providing access to reproductive health services, eliminating gender-based violence and economic inequalities, preventing child marriage and early child bearing and keeping girls in school. Finally, she asked the graduating women and girls to be champions and speak out about the impact of fistula on women’s lives, their families and communities.
Some of the clients highlighted in their testimonies the horrific hardships they encountered before being rescued by MCCI. They were given hope, they said, when everything seemed to be lost.