According to the United Nations Populations Funds Obstetric fistula is one of the most serious and tragic childbirth injuries … It is a hole between the birth canal and bladder or rectum caused by prolonged, obstructed labor, without access to timely, high-quality medical treatment.
It leaves women leaking urine, faeces or both, and often leads to chronic medical problems, depression, social isolation and deepening poverty.
You do not have to have a daughter to imagine the impact of child marriage. It cuts across countries, cultures, ethnicity and religion. These children are robbed of their childhood, denied their rights to health, education and security, trapping them in the vicious cycle of poverty. And yet these decisions to hand out girls in early marriage are mostly taken by those who should be responsible for protecting them – their own parents and guardians – sometimes in the name of tradition.
Let’s Walk You Through Some Scary Facts
- More than 2 million women in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Arab region, and Latin America and the Caribbean are estimated to be living with fistula, and some 50,000 to 100,000 new cases develop annually.
- The group most vulnerable to fistulas is the young bride. Child marriage is a global problem with an estimated 14 million girls given out in marriage before they turn 18, some as young as 9 – 14 of the 20 countries with the highest rate of child marriage are in Africa.
- The toxic combination of a young girl having sex, getting pregnant and going through childbirth when her body is not developed enough accounts for at least 25% of known fistula cases.
How it Happens..
Without emergency intervention, obstructed labour can last for days, resulting in death or severe disability. The obstruction can cut off blood supply to tissues in the woman’s pelvis. When the dead tissue falls away, she is left with a hole – a fistula, in medical terms – in the birth canal.
Tragically, there is a strong association between fistula and stillbirth, with research indicating approximately 90 per cent of women who develop obstetric fistula end up delivering a stillborn baby.
Obstetric fistula has been essentially eliminated in industrialized countries by the availability of timely, high-quality medical treatment for prolonged and obstructed labour – namely, Caesarean sections.
Today, obstetric fistula occurs mostly among women and girls living in extreme poverty, especially those living far from medical services. It is also more likely to afflict girls who become pregnant while still physically immature.
If left untreated, obstetric fistula causes chronic incontinence and can lead to a range of other physical ailments, including frequent infections, kidney disease, painful sores and infertility. The physical injuries can also lead to social isolation and psychological harm:
Women and girls with fistula are often unable to work, and many are abandoned by their husbands and families, and ostracized by their communities, driving them further into poverty.
The continued occurrence of obstetric fistula is a human rights violation, reflecting the marginalization of those affected and the failure of health systems to meet their needs. Their isolation means they often go unnoticed by policymakers, and as a result, little action is taken to address or prevent their condition. As a result, women and girls suffer needlessly, often for years, with no hope it sight.
Can Fistula Be Prevented???
Absolutely!! it is 100% Preventable.
Reconstructive surgery can usually repair a fistula. Unfortunately, the women and girls affected by this injury often do not know that treatment is possible, cannot afford it or cannot reach the facilities where it is available. Tragically, at the current rate of progress, most women and girls living with fistula today will die before ever being treated
It costs about $450 to give a woman her life and dignity back. But repairs, important as they are, will not eradicate fistula. There is a great need for programmes that can reach our rural and even urban communities to dissuade them from marrying their daughters as children.
Most importantly some underlying factors such as marginalization of the rights of women and girls such as; lack of quality health services, education,poverty,gender inequality, child marriages, adolescent pregnancy also stand as a huge barrier in the fight against this fight.
Civil society, communities, faith-based organizations, businesses, multinational organizations, schools and individuals must play a role in the sensitization, awareness creation and conversation around this epidemic.
Let’s Raise Awareness about Obstetric Fistula!