Pregnant women have a great deal to look forward to: the miracle of birth, meeting their children, raising them into adulthood. While we may prefer to focus on these happy outcomes, we should also confront the fact that serious risks make this journey a perilous one for those who lack access to proper medical care.
Three million women now live with a condition that develops during childbirth and can have debilitating consequences for decades. Obstetric fistula, which occurs during prolonged or difficult labour, is now rare in the industrialized world but still all too common in poorer countries where inadequate medical care and stigma combine to turn a preventable condition into a devastating one.
Women with obstetric fistula sometimes die in shame abandoned by their families and often suffer lifelong physical and emotional effects – but there is hope. Skilled professionals know how to treat patients. With support, those who have been ostracized can reintegrate into their societies.
Success requires compassion, sensitivity and above all funds. That is why the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is teaming up with partners to spearhead the Global Campaign to End Fistula.
This is part of our broader efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals and mobilize partners in the Every Woman, Every Child initiative. The benefits reverberate far beyond the women who are directly affected, extending to children who will be raised by healthy mothers and communities that benefit from their contributions.
The International Day to End Obstetric Fistula is an important opportunity to raise awareness of a condition that is not well-understood even in societies where it is prevalent, and much less where it is not. The more understanding and action we generate today, the more we can look forward to a future where obstetric fistula is virtually unknown because it is virtually non-existent.
The report, recently released by UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, calls for systematic notification of fistula cases and the creation of national registers to ensure proper care, follow up and support for all fistula patients.