Obstetric fistula is preventable: It can largely be avoided -UNFPA

23May 2020
Getrude Mbago
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Obstetric fistula is preventable: It can largely be avoided -UNFPA

​​​​​​​HEALTH stakeholders have urged the government to continue putting considerable investments towards ending obstetric fistula by ensuring that every woman and girl has access to timely and quality maternal health care, including emergency obstetric care.

It is estimated that of 3,000 women that develop fistula every year in the country, fewer get treated and less than a third are not aware of causes of fistula and that it can be cured.

In a media tele-briefing held yesterday, Dr Wilfred Ochan, Deputy Representative the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Tanzania said that it is high time to ensure that that every new case of fistula is prevented, and every obstetric fistula patient is treated and receives the follow-up, social reintegration and rehabilitation support.

According to him, as the World marks International Day to End Obstetric Fistula today, concerted efforts between the government, stakeholders and development partners are still needed to improve maternal services.

He said that the day is marked to raise awareness and to mobilize support around the globe to both prevent and treat this devastating childbirth injury.

“Eliminating fistula is a key element of “leaving no-one behind” and this is more relevant now than ever."

Obstetric fistula is one of the most serious and tragic injuries that can occur during childbirth. It is a hole, or abnormal opening, in the birth canal, that results in chronic leakage of urine and/or feces. Women with fistula are often shunned by their communities.

He said that UNFPA is committed to ensuring that efforts to end obstetric fistula do not stall especially during Covid-19 pandemic.

"As part of national response efforts – we will continue to prioritize the delivery of safe and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, with a focus on reaching those furthest behind.”

Dr Ochan said that as the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Tanzania and around the world, efforts to end fistula must continue, and its prevention through the provision of comprehensive and lifesaving sexual and reproductive health services must remain a priority in these times of crisis.

"Every day, globally, more than 800 women die from pregnancy-related complications. For every woman who dies, 20 or more are injured or disabled. One of the most serious childbearing injuries is obstetric fistula 2 - a tear in the birth canal caused by prolonged, obstructed labour in the absence of timely and adequate medical care. Those who experience fistula suffer life-shattering consequences including chronic incontinence, shame, social isolation, poverty, and physical, mental and emotional health problems."

And it occurs disproportionately among the most vulnerable and marginalized women and girls; the same women and girls who are most at risk of dying in childbirth and who are in real danger of being left behind.

"UNFPA Tanzania, led by Government, has made considerable investments to improve maternal and child health care, including emergency obstetric care, in Simiyu and Kigoma Regions, Tanzania, over the last two years. Forty health facilities in Simiyu Region and six facilities in Kigoma Region have been renovated and equipped," he added.

For her part, the executive director of the Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania (CCBRT) Brenda Msangi majority of women with obstetric fistula do not have access to quality services.

She pointed out that those without access to modern maternal health services are more likely to suffer from obstetric fistula, for example.

"For example, last year, CCBRT treated only 670 women with obstetric fistula, this is a very low number com[pared to over 3000 women who are estimated to develop the injury every year," Msangi noted.

She urged women and girls suffering from obstetric fistula all over the country to bury their fear, come out from hiding as the challenge is totally free of charge treatable.

Dr Florence Temu, Country Director for Amref Health Africa Tanzania said that the organisation is concerned about the devastating effect of women suffering from fistula including the death of their babies, uncertainty of having more children, divorce, depression, stigma, social isolation and deepening poverty.

"We will continue to support the government of Tanzania to see that Obstetric Fistula becomes history through joint efforts with partners to have a country strategy about obstetric fistula, availability of current statistics on country situation and appropriate coordination. Amref Health Africa supports global and national efforts to end fistula, and we will continue to work to restore smiles to the faces of fistula survivors,” she said.

She said that to complement on government’s efforts as part of fistula prevention, Amref Health Africa, provides support to improve nutritional practices of women of reproductive age and children in hard to reach communities through community awareness interventions, capacity strengthening of health care workers, construction of maternity wards, operating theatres and maternity waiting homes.