Every two minutes a woman dies in childbirth. This roughly equates to the crash of two fully booked Jumbo Jets. Only that the plane crashes will make it to the news, but not the dead women or the families they leave behind. Of those women who survive a difficult pregnancy or delivery, many will suffer from obstetric fistula, a hole between the birth canal and bladder or rectum caused by prolonged, obstructed labour. All over the world, 50,000 to 100,000 new fistula cases are registered every year.
Exactly 10 years ago, as back then foundation ambassador, I started to learn a lot about this condition and asked for donations wherever I could. Since then, Zonta members throughout the world have helped more than 1,500 women in post-civil war Liberia to undergo surgical treatment and receive rehabilitation services. They donated more than 3.5 million US Dollars over 10 years to support efforts to eliminate obstetric fistula in Liberia.
After these 10 years, I met a fistula surgeon for the first time in real life: Dr. Wilhelmina W. Jallah (pictured with me above). She is Minister of Health in Liberia and I was touched that she recognized Zonta’s commitment and thanked us when we met at UNFPA’s “Save Birth, Even Here“ event held during the second week of the UN General Assembly in New York. One of her major goals is to make sure ambulant medical support is provided to the more remote parts of her country. This will help get more women skilled assistance with delivering their babies and prevent the prolonged labor that too often leads to these terrible injuries.
Zonta members’ funding of the Ending Child Marriage program from 2018 to 2020 will also contribute to reduce the occurrence of fistula since, eventually, the number of teenage pregnancies will be reduced.