Breaking the Cycle: Global Efforts to Prevent Fistula

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Image credit: UNFPA Ethiopia/MOPIX Production

Understanding and Preventing Obstetric Fistula

Obstetric fistula is a serious childbirth injury. It happens when there is a hole between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum, usually due to prolonged and obstructed labor without timely medical help. This condition causes women and girls to leak urine, feces, or both, leading to chronic health issues, depression, social isolation, and worsening poverty. Tragically, 90% of pregnancies involving fistula result in stillbirth.

Although maternal health has improved globally, obstetric fistula remains a problem, especially in lower- and middle-income countries. This issue highlights deep-seated inequalities in these societies. The theme “Breaking the Cycle: Preventing Fistula Worldwide” stresses the importance of providing equal access to quality maternal health services, supporting social reintegration, and investing in healthcare systems.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) leads the global Campaign to End Fistula. This 21-year-old campaign focuses on preventing fistula and providing comprehensive treatment, including surgical repair and social reintegration. Despite progress, eliminating fistula by 2030 requires faster action and greater effort.

How You Can Help

In 2003, the UNFPA and its partners started the Campaign to End Fistula, aiming to improve maternal and newborn health and make fistula as rare in developing countries as it is in developed ones. In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly set a goal to end fistula by 2030.

To achieve this, we need strong political leadership, urgent and strategic actions, more resources, and better collaboration among governments, partners, civil society, healthcare providers, women, and communities.

Preventing obstetric fistula involves:

  • Delaying the age of first pregnancy
  • Stopping harmful traditional practices
  • Ensuring timely access to obstetric care

Despite overall improvements in pregnancy safety, many health systems and communities still struggle to ensure safe childbirth. As a result, thousands of women and girls suffer from injuries like obstetric fistula each year. Additionally, climate change and challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic worsen the root causes of fistula.

Given these complexities, it is crucial for the international community to use the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula to raise awareness and intensify efforts to end this condition. We must also ensure proper follow-up and tracking for fistula patients after surgery.

Re-reported the article originally published in United Nations.

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