International obstetric fistula meeting under way in Kathmandu

  • Improved access to reproductive health services can reduce fistula cases

Kathmandu, December 7

A meeting of the International Obstetric Fistula Working Group began in Kathmandu today.

Over 50 participants from nearly 20 countries working to prevent fistula, provide treatment for women with the disease and assist in their rehabilitation and reintegration are taking part in the two-day meeting.

Organised by United Nations Population Fund and the Campaign to End Fistula in partnership with the International Society of Obstetric Fistula Surgeons and Nepal Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the meeting aims to draft a new global road map for ending fistula within a decade, responding to the new UN call to action.

Obstetric fistula is an abnormal opening between a woman’s genital tract and her urinary tract or rectum. The development of obstetric fistula is directly linked to one of the major causes of maternal mortality — obstructed labour. Women who experience fistula suffer constant incontinence, shame, social segregation and health problems. It is estimated that up to a million women are currently suffering from fistula globally and an estimated 200 to 400 Nepali women develop obstetric fistula in Nepal every year, according to UNFPA.

Delivering her opening remarks at the meeting, UNFPA Country Representative for Nepal Lubna Baqi said that despite a lot of progress in ending fistula, we needed to do much more, in particular raise awareness, even within the healthcare system, and increase the political commitment and financial support to end fistula.

“The Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved unless we end obstetric fistula. It is fundamental to improving maternal and newborn health. If we are serious about leaving no one behind, the national development agenda must include ending fistula as a goal with the necessary financial resources to prevent new cases from occurring and treat all existing ones,” she said and added, “While prevention is the key to ending fistula – there is clearly a need to mobilise greater support to upscale the treatment of fistula including expanding the pool of skilled surgeons which has been a challenge.”

Also speaking at the event, Chief of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Section under the Family Welfare Division Kabita Aryal said the Government of Nepal recognised health as a fundamental right of every citizen and aimed to ensure universal, equitable and quality health service provision.

Access to sexual and reproductive health services not only improves women’s chances of surviving in pregnancy or childbirth, but also contributes to reducing gender inequality and poverty, she added.

Similarly, Coordinator of the UNFPA-led Campaign to End Fistula Erin Anastasi said, “Fistula is a problem that is solvable as it is both preventable and highly treatable. If all women had access to skilled care at birth and emergency obstetric care when needed, fistula can be avoided. When the world decides to prioritise and invest to secure the health, human rights, and dignity of all women and girls — no matter how poor, vulnerable, or marginalised — the dream of ending fistula will become a reality,” Anastasi added.