AYV New May 25, 2023
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has collaborated with the Government of Sierra Leone and other organisations like Haikal Foundation and Aberdeen Women’s Centre to commemorate the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula in Sierra Leone.
This year’s theme was centered on ‘20 years of progress but not enough! Act now end Fistula by 2030!’
This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the global Campaign to End Fistula and 10 years of commemorating the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, instituted to raise awareness of the issue, strengthen partnerships and mobilize support around the globe.
In Sierra Leone, UNFPA supports national efforts in addressing Fistula prevention and the prevention of maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity, stillbirth, and improving the quality of maternal care, by supporting the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in improving quality services for pregnant and postnatal women.
With funding from the Government of Iceland, UNFPA works with Haikal Foundation and Aberdeen Women’s Centre to conduct screening for women with suspected obstetric fistula, and surgery to repair their fistula and restore their dignity.
This support by Iceland is made possible by a five-year program that calls for a comprehensive and integrated approach to the campaign.
The event also marked the official launching of a five-year Obstetric Fistula Strategy that contains five strategic points, namely, to prevent, and identify those infected; services provided and reintegrate to society; ensure a governance structure with all stakeholders on board; mobilize financial, and technical and material resources; and monitoring and evaluation.
Country Representative of UNFPA, Dr. Nadia Rasheed, said although progress has been made there is a long way to go. “We need to accelerate our efforts and actions to end obstetric fistula by 2030. Fistula is one of the most tragic health conditions that is preventable,” she said and added that since 2011, more than 1,800 women have been treated at the Aberdeen Women’s Hospital.
“Sierra Leone has made significant progress in health facilities. There is a need to accelerate actions so that no one is left behind.” Dr. Rasheed remarked and furthered that all women leaving with the condition must be reached and ensured treated by trained professionals with midwifery skills during childbirth.
“There is a need to end child marriage and adolescent pregnancy. Men and boys must be brought on board to end obstetric fistula. Those who live with the condition have hope, and they will be cared for and reintegrate into society,” she said.
Sierra Leone’s Minister of Health, Dr. Austin Demby, said women are the number one priority of the government, and it is important to attend to their challenges.
“We have to do everything possible to keep women healthy before they are pregnant, and proper care is taken when they deliver to keep their babies healthy,” the minister said and went further to say that Obstetric Fistula can be managed, prevented and treated.
He admonished all to end Fistula by 2030, adding that delayed delivery can lead to Fistula. He committed his ministry’s support to prevent Fistula and cure it when it occurs.
“Those infected should not be ashamed to come out.” Dr. Demby said and challenged all that Sierra Leone should be made a Fistula-free country in five years.
“Have 2000 people infected with Obstetric Fistula? Only one out of fifty received treatment. 200 Fistula repairs are done every year,” the minister revealed, adding that international organisations like UNFPA and the Government of Iceland have supported the treatment and rehabilitation of patients.
“By 2030, no women should be infected with Fistula. The government is putting modalities in place to find, treat and rehabilitate those infected with the disease. We want to treat 600 backlog cases and prevent new infections,” he noted and ended that Sierra Leone is worried, which is why the government wants to prevent the preventable Obstetric Fistula.
Dr. Tom Sesay, Reproductive and Child Health Director, described Obstetric Fistula as a medical condition that affects vulnerable women and makes them more vulnerable when infected.
“It is the duty of the government to enable them to gain their human rights, treatment, and dignity in society. It is relatively dehumanising and pathetic to those who find themselves in this ugly situation,” he said.
Paramount Chief, Dr. Margaret Bao, who spoke on behalf of Traditional Leaders, underscored their important roles in the communities to end Fistula, adding that one of the key challenges is early marriages, which can lead to Obstetric Fistula due to teenage pregnancy.
“Traditional leaders should partner with key stakeholders to help prevent, identify and refer for treatment those infected. We are committed to working with the government and partners to end Fistula,” she assured.
Executive Director of Haikal Foundation, Haja Hawa Turay revealed that her organisation wants to go beyond soap making by empowering the treated patients to go back to school or give business support.
“We are helping to identify those infected and refer them for treatments and rehabilitation,” she said.
Dr. Sartie Kenneh, Chief Medical Officer, spoke on the role of the community, which is to serve as champions against discrimination, noting that it will help to ensure the early treatment of patients.
“We are, therefore, thankful to the Government and people of Iceland for our partnership in strengthening this global campaign,” he said.
Site visits to the West Africa Fistula Foundation Sierra Leone and Haikal Foundation facilities by UNFPA officials and partners climaxed the event.