Participants attending International Obstetric Fistula Meeting in Kathmandu, on Friday, December 07, 2018. Photo: THT
KATHMANDU: A meeting of the International Obstetric Fistula Working Group kicked off in Kathmandu today. Over 50 participants from nearly 20 countries working to prevent fistula from occurring, treat and care for women with fistula, assist in their rehabilitation and reintegration are taking part in the two-day meeting. Organised by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Campaign to End Fistula, in partnership with the International Society of Obstetric Fistula Surgeons (ISOFS) and Nepal Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the meeting aims to convene global experts in the fight against fistula 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 200-400 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 need to do much more, particularly raise awareness, even within the healthcare system, and increase the political commitment and financial support to end fistula in a generation. “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. “While prevention is 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 as you well know.” Also speaking at the event, the Chief of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Section under the Family Health Division, Kabita Aryal, said that the Government of Nepal recognises health as a fundamental right of every citizen and aims 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 and their well-being, but also contributes to reducing gender inequality and poverty, she added. Similarly, Coordinator of the UNFPA-led Campaign to End Fistula, Erin Anastasi, highlighted the fact that 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 could be avoided, she said. “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. Before the meeting, the two-day International ISOFS Conference in Kathmandu ended on Thursday. The conference provided an opportunity to strengthen cross-country networks and collaboration towards ending fistula within a generation.