By: Madeline Taskier, Strategic Partnerships Associate at Women Deliver
This fall, the Aberdeen Women’s Centre in Freetown, Sierra Leone is bringing hope to thousands of women affected by obstetric fistula. In October, the centre, which provides a variety of maternal and child health services, began offering a free phone hotline, follow up services, and surgery for women suffering from this debilitating condition.
Obstetric fistula, like maternal mortality, is an almost entirely preventable condition experienced by at least 2 million women in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia every year. When a woman has obstructed labor delaying delivery of her baby, a hole can form in the tissue between her bladder, vagina, and rectum causing uncontrollable leakage of feces or urine and can result in a stillborn birth. Performing surgery to repair the fistula is successful 90 percent of the time, but many women in these regions often do not have access to trained surgeons and have little knowledge of existing treatments.
The prevalence of obstetric fistula in Sierra Leone has grown since its civil war. A conflict wracked with sexual violence and rape trauma; both can cause fistula. Unintended pregnancies in young girls, caused by rape or poor antenatal care, have exacerbated the condition for many young women.
Now, women all over the country are able to hear radio broadcasts advertising the hotline, along with advertisements describing fistula and its symptoms. Transmitted in both English and Krio, a local language, the broadcasts encourage women to seek medical attention when necessary. Since its inception, over 8,000 calls have been received, and ninety additional fistula cases treated at the clinic.
The hotline, made possible by a public private partnership between the Gloag Foundation, USAID, UNFPA, and Airtel, is one of many efforts necessary in advancing health services for women. Despite this development, there are still shortages of health workers, facilities, and care for special conditions such as fistula. Increased education and awareness regarding fistula are imperative for women affected by this condition.
Flickr photo by: cyclopsr