“Hope, Healing and Dignity for all”. Women living with fistula

23 May 2017
Fistula Patients celebrating the healing

On the fourth International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Tanzania – in collaboration with the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania and implementing partners CCBRT and Amref Health Africa – are joining forces with the international community to step up the fight to end fistula in Tanzania.

The theme of the day, on 23 May 2017, is “hope, healing and dignity for all”. Women living with fistula – a condition caused by prolonged, obstructed labour without timely medical intervention – are left incontinent, uncontrollably leaking urine, faeces, or both, subject to stigma and discrimination in their communities, and face isolation and a lack of support. It is estimated that 3,000 women develop fistula in Tanzania every year, leading to a significant backlog in the number of women requiring treatment. These women are some of the poorest and most marginalised in society.

The Ministry of Health Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, UNFPA, CCBRT and Amref Health Africa are using the 23rd May as an opportunity to reflect on the progress already being made together in Tanzania to eliminate fistula, while looking to the future, and ensure ending fistula is a high priority on the national agenda.

CCBRT and Amref are tackling the condition in 14 health facilities across Tanzania, and last year provided life-changing surgery to 1,356 women living with fistula. By providing free treatment, accommodation, meals and transport (with funds sent via M-PESA) to fistula patients, Amref and CCBRT are breaking down the barriers that women with fistula – many of whom come from poorer, hard-to-reach communities – face in accessing treatment. Globally, UNFPA supported the repairs of 15,000 fistulae in 2016 alone.

Timely, quality maternal care is key to preventing fistula from occurring, and therefore the three participating organisations support the Government’s One Plan II to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity. At present, the Ministry of Health is in the process of conducting research into the incidence of fistula in Tanzania, and is working together with the three organisations on a national strategy to set goals and standards for the eradication of fistula in the country.

Collaboration is key to the efforts to end the scourge of fistula. Together, the Ministry of Health Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, UNFPA, CCBRT and Amref Health Africa are calling to mobilise the support and commitment needed to transform the lives of women and girls living with fistula, promote hope and healing, and rid Tanzania of fistula for good:

“Ending fistula is a high priority for UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and it is a key step on the road to achieving the world’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Fistula has been virtually eliminated in the world’s wealthier countries, so we know that it can be eliminated in every country. Strong health systems and greater efforts to address the underlying issues that perpetuate it, including poverty, gender inequality, early marriage and childbearing, and lack of education, are crucial”, said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin.

“Fistula is a preventable condition that we must tackle together. In 2017, no woman should have to suffer constant leaking, grief from the loss of her child, depression and social isolation needlessly, and it is our mission to end this situation for good. We need to address the backlog of women suffering in silence in their communities across Tanzania, with effective detection, referral and awareness raising, advocate for a national strategy and strengthen prevention by training clinicians in emergency obstetric skills. I am proud to join hands with our partners at UNFPA, the Ministry of Health and Amref and call for an end to fistula in Tanzania, and I ask others to support us in this incredibly important work”, commented CCBRT CEO Erwin Telemans.

Amref Health Africa Tanzania Country Director, Dr Florence Temu, added: Amref Health Africa is concerned about the devastating effects of fistula on women, including the death of their babies, uncertainty about having more children, divorce, depression, stigma, social isolation and deepening poverty. Amref Health Africa supports global and national efforts to end fistula, and we will continue to work to restore smiles to the faces of fistula survivors.”