Last Monday, October 11th, the United Nations released a report entitled "Supporting Efforts to End Obstetric Fistula" which estimates that $750 million will be needed to treat existing and new cases of obstetric fistula occurring between now and 2015.
Despite being almost entirely preventable when universal and equitable access to quality maternal and reproductive health services exists, the Lancet has reported that at least 2 million and as many as 3.5 million women suffer from obstetric fistula. According to the World Health Organization, adolescent girls are especially vulnerable, and their risk for maternal mortality is two to five times greater than that faced by women in their twenties.
The new report recognizes the progress made thus far in addressing obstetric fistula, mainly in the developed world. The UN General Assembly first acknowledged obstetric fistula as a major issue for women’s health in 2008 with the adoption of resolution 63/158, which was sponsored by 138 Member States. However, the problem has persisted in developing countries, resulting in debilitating medical and social consequences for afflicted women. UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid released a video statement in which she describes fistula as “… an injury that affects women and leaves them incontinent and thus ostracized outside of their families and communities.. and we have to restore the dignity of millions of women.”
The report highlights success stories, such as a community health program in Niger which reduced fistula occurrences, and a leadership training program in Ghana for fistula survivors. Integration is emphasized, with strong links drawn from the education and economic empowerment of girls and women to maternal health.
The $750 million needed to treat obstetric fistula should be constituted by a predictable and sustained funding source to countries’ national plans, United Nations entities, and other global initiatives such as the Campaign to End Fistula. In her official statement, Purnima Mane, Deputy Executive Director of UNFPA, stated “I hope the next generation will not hear of fistula not because it remains hidden, but because it no longer exists.”