Officer-In-Charge of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr. Nestor Azandegbe has called for a collective effort to end Obstetric Fistula in Sierra Leone. Speaking at this year’s commemoration of observe the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula in Bo City the UNFPA Officer-In-Charge called on other development partners, the private sector and well-wishers to join the campaign to end obstetric fistula by supporting fistula advocacy, prevention, surgical repair, and social re-integration services.
UNFPA Sierra Leone joined the Ministry of Health and sanitation and other development partners to observe the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, which is a day set aside by the United Nations General Assembly and celebrated on 23rd May every year, provides an opportunity to advocate for strategic partnerships, mobilize resources and campaign for interventions aimed at ending this devastating birth complication which removes the dignity of women and girls. The theme of this year’s commemoration is: “Women’s rights are human rights! End Fistula now”! The theme highlights the fact that obstetric fistula is a human rights violation whose elimination depends, in large part, on securing women’s and girls’ rights. One such right is the right to quality sexual and reproductive health services including emergency obstetrics and newborn care services, without which, women will continue to suffer from this condition. It is pleasing to note that the Government of Sierra Leone now has a road map on Universal Health Coverage which will facilitate universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and contribute to the elimination of Obstetric Fistula.
Dr. Nestor Azandegbe, Officer-In-Charge, UNFPA Sierra Leone his organization remains committed to the prevention, treatment, and social reintegration of fistula survivors. However, he said more partners need to come on board to support the campaign as more resources are required to ensure that all women and girls who need treatment are offered the service in time.
The Officer-In-Charge remarked that it is also critical for the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to have in place a comprehensive Fistula Program through the integration of fistula repairs in existing and routine health programs.
Haikal Foundation’s Executive Director, Haja Hawa Turay said bringing the issue of eliminating obstetric fistula closer to government-managed hospitals is critical as it helps in sustaining the campaign. “It is in light of this that Haikal has successfully worked on building a clinic, a fistula center, refurbished a Ward at the Bo Government Hospital and equipped the theatre for fistula operations,” she noted and furthered that it is pleasing to note also, that UNFPA continues to support efforts in ensuring that sexual, reproductive, maternal and newborn health are being continued and provided with quality even during a global pandemic like during the COVID-19. “This is against the backdrop that while pregnant and birthing women and newborns are directly affected by the COVID-19 virus, they are at risk in terms of the indirect impacts of the pandemic,” Madam Turay said.
The Resident Minister South, Mohamed E. K. Alie said the occurrence of obstetric fistula highlights persistent global inequalities in access to health care and basic human rights for women. “Obstetric fistula is a direct result of poor quality of care for women during pregnancy and childbirth. Women who develop fistula often have prolonged labour which can result from either failure to make timely decision to go to the health facility when labor starts, or delay in reaching the health facility due to poor referral system or bad road network, or failure by the health facility to provide timely and appropriate treatment to the women during childbirth,” the Minister noted and added that to help mitigate this problem the Government of the Republic of Sierra Leone has established free health care services for women and children, which is aimed at ensuring that women receive timely quality services during pregnancy and childbirth without facing financial challenges.
“My government has also established the Ambulance system that helps to ensure timely referral of women if they need specialized care during childbirth. In addition, my government is introducing innovative financing mechanisms for the health sector, such as Sierra Leone Social Health Insurance to ensure that all Sierra Leoneans, including pregnant women, have access to quality health services,” he revealed.
Minister Alie furthered that the government is proud to be associated with partners such as UNFPA, Aberdeen Women’s Center, Haikal, and other partners who support the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in addressing the problem of obstetric fistula. “However, it is important to note that, due to the socioeconomic nature of this problem, addressing Obstetric Fistula requires a multisectoral approach,” he said.