Today, Zonta International recognizes the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula. Obstetric fistula is one of the most serious and tragic injuries that can occur during childbirth.
It is often caused by prolonged, obstructed labor without timely medical intervention, usually a cesarean section. During unassisted, prolonged labor, the sustained pressure of the baby’s head on the mother’s pelvic bone damages her soft tissues and pelvic nerves, creating a hole—or fistula—between the vagina and bladder and/or rectum, resulting in constant leaking of urine and/or feces through the vagina. In most cases, the baby is stillborn; and, in some cases, the mother is left paralyzed.
In addition to the physical consequences, fistula can also have social and psychological effects on women. There is often a stigma associated with this condition, and women suffering from fistula are abandoned by their families and marginalized by their communities.
With properly trained surgeons, appropriately equipped facilities and the necessary aftercare, the treatment of uncomplicated obstetric fistula has a 90 percent success rate. For 10 years, Zonta has been committed to the prevention and treatment of obstetric fistula, contributing a total of more than US$3.5 million to the UNFPA to support the Liberia Fistula Project.
In the 2016-2018 Biennium, Zonta contributed US$1 million to the Liberia Fistula Project. Since we started supporting the project in 2008, more than 1,500 women have been surgically repaired and nearly 400 have completed rehabilitation and income-generating training.
Obstetric fistula is preventable and can be largely avoided by delaying the first age of pregnancy, ceasing harmful traditional practices and timely access to obstetric care. In addition to surgically managing fistula, the Liberia Fistula Project also aims to increase knowledge of obstetric fistula throughout the nation, improve the capacity of local health practitioners and train specialist doctors in obstetric fistula management and care.
I am proud of what we have achieved through the Liberia Fistula Project. Together, we can end fistula.