Statement of UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem on the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, 23 May 2019
Shame, isolation and segregation are among the indignities faced by the hundreds of thousands of women and girls worldwide who suffer from obstetric fistula, an injury of the birth canal after prolonged and obstructed labour. The girls and women afflicted by the condition, which is preventable and largely treatable, are often plagued by chronic incontinence. As a result, they face devastating social stigma.
The majority of women and girls who suffer from fistula are poor. Their inability to receive prompt medical treatment not only deprives them of their health and dignity, but is a violation of their human rights.
UNFPA leads the Campaign to End Fistula. Since 2003, UNFPA has supported over 100,000 fistula repair surgeries, and campaign partners have supported thousands more, enabling women and girls in more than 55 countries across Africa, Asia, the Arab region and Latin America to regain hope and rebuild their lives.
One survivor, Nasiwelo Bisolomo, lost her baby at the age of 18 after a prolonged obstructed labour at home. She suffered from fistula for the next 46 years. She nearly had lost all hope when she heard of a UNFPA-supported fistula camp and travelled 300 km to undergo the life-transforming healing surgery. Now, she is helping spread the word that fistula treatment is available.
It is time for the world to heed the call made by United Nations Member States in the 2018 United Nations Resolution on Ending Fistula in which they committed to eradicating the condition within a decade. Yet, achieving this goal requires increased investments, innovations and partnerships. Failure to take action will undermine our chances of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, meeting the commitments of the International Conference on Population and Development, and ensuring no one is left behind.
No woman or girl should be deprived of her dignity, hopes and dreams. Fistula is a human rights violation – end it now!