By Dr. Ademola Olajide, UNFPA Representative, Kenya and Joseph Ogutu, Chairman, Safaricom Foundation
One of the most serious injuries that can occur during childbirth is obstetric fistula, a tear in the birth canal that leads to chronic incontinence with devastating consequences for survivors. Many are left to bear the shame, social isolation and mental anguish in silence.
Women and girls from impoverished and marginalized backgrounds suffer disproportionately from obstetric fistula. These same women and girls are also most at risk of dying in childbirth in the absence of timely and adequate medical care.
Obstetric fistula is preventable and, in most cases, can be repaired surgically.
Eradicating fistula is possible with proper investment in reproductive health care, including high-quality emergency obstetric care services and availability of an adequate number of midwives and trained, competent fistula surgeons.
It is true that safe pregnancies and safe childbirth lead to lower incidences of obstetric fistula, and every Kenyan mother should be guaranteed both.
We recognize that the government is scaling up universal health coverage where programmes such as Linda Mama are anchored to support access to skilled care.
There is probably no greater joy than that of a woman whose dignity has been restored through Fistula surgery.
Over the years, UNFPA, Beyond Zero Campaign, Safaricom Foundation, AMREF Health Africa, Flying Doctors Society of Africa and other partners have partnered in holding fistula repair camps for women in need.
In 2020, Lilian Kegode a mother of four was among those who received fistula repair surgery, after suffering with the condition for more than ten years.
“I finally got my life back thanks to this surgery. I have gained weight, and I am able to do daily tasks without the fear that I will embarrass myself,” she says.
With this newfound confidence, Lilian has been able to find steady work and provide for her family in the last one year.
This year, the partners have joined hands in sponsoring another fistula camp at Kenyatta National Hospital, where more women have been reached with free fistula repair treatment.
While fistula has been virtually eliminated in some parts of the world, many women and girls in Kenya still live with this debilitating condition.
Their right to health and to live free from the societal discrimination that often comes with fistula must be guaranteed through universal access to quality sexual and reproductive healthcare services.
Each new case of Fistula should and can be prevented when women get timely high-quality maternity care, including skilled birth attendance, midwifery care and emergency obstetric care as needed.
This is especially crucial for those who face economic barriers that affect their ability to pursue fistula treatment available at health facilities across the country.
We stand united on this International Day to End Obstetric Fistula in saying Women’s rights are Human Rights, and we must end Fistula now!