Persistence of fistula is a human rights violation, says UNFPA Deputy Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem

10 October, 2016
Persistence of fistula is a human rights violation, says UNFPA Deputy Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem

United Nations, New York - Dr. Natalia Kanem, Deputy Executive Director (Programme) of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, presented the United Nations Secretary-General’s report "Intensifying efforts to end obstetric fistula" to the Social, Humanitarian Cultural Affairs Committee (Third Committee) of the General Assembly in New York today.

Dr. Kanem noted that progress has been made in the past two years by integrating fistula into national health strategies, plans and policies. By the end of 2015, according to the report, at least 15 countries had developed national strategies for ending fistula, which is more than a quarter of all countries in which the UNFPA-led Campaign to End Fistula is active.

Harnessing the power of partnerships, efforts to end fistula have been integrated into many effective health initiatives focusing on maternal and newborn health. Dr. Kanem underscored the example of the Global Midwifery Programme, in which UNFPA partners with the International Confederation of Midwives, USAID, the African Medical Research Foundation (AMREF) Health Africa and others, to support countries strengthen their midwifery programmes and policies. Such a partnership is critical, noted Dr. Kanem, considering the vital role midwives play in saving the lives of mothers and babies and preventing severe maternal and newborn illnesses.

While the achievements made were commendable, Dr. Kanem added, it was necessary to galvanize collective action at the global level to accelerate progress. A point strongly emphasized in the Secretary-General's report is that fistula is almost entirely preventable when there is universal access to quality sexual and reproductive health care.

“Therefore, the persistence of obstetric fistula reflects not only severe health inequities and health system failures or socio-economic, gender, and cultural barriers facing women and girls, but it is a human rights violation,” Dr. Kanem said.

In order to tackle the underlying drivers of fistula and end this terrible scourge, it is necessary to eradicate poverty, reduce socio-economic and gender inequality, protect women’s and girls’ human rights, ensure universal access to health services and to education, and prevent child marriage and teenage pregnancy.

The report made a number of recommendations, Dr. Kanem said, including significantly accelerating efforts and developing a global action plan to end fistula within a generation. The report also calls for increased financial and human resources, such as skilled surgeons to repair fistula, and scaling-up three well-known and cost-effective interventions: skilled birth attendance; emergency obstetric and newborn care; and family planning.

“The world we want is a world where obstetric fistula no longer exists,” Dr. Kanem said. “If we commit to this ‘fistula-free world’ and to protecting the human rights, well-being, and dignity of each woman and girl everywhere, we can make every pregnancy and childbirth safe, eliminate the abomination of obstetric fistula and prevent this tragedy all around the world, once and forever.”