By Alfred Koroma
The Government of Iceland in partnership with UNFPA and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation has launched a seven million dollar project to strengthen the fight against eliminating obstetric fistula in Sierra Leone.
The project, which was launched yesterday, will focus on providing rehabilitation and social reintegration services to obstetric fistula survivors before and after surgery; strengthen targeted referral hospitals to provide fistula surgeries and other gynecological surgery.
The project will also include providing adolescents girls, women and key community actors with information on SRH for obstetric fistula in Sierra Leone; ensuring obstetric fistula survivors are identified and cared for, ensures targeted health facilities are strengthened to provide RMMC services aimed at preventing obstetric fistula and ensure the establishment of management system to strength fistula program in the country. The over 7 million dollar project will last for a period of five years period.
The Ministry of Health and Sanitation regards the project as a critical program that will transform the country’s approach to prevention, treatment, and social reintegration of fistula survivors.
The project was launched yesterday 23rd May, during the commemoration of the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula which was set aside by the United Nations General Assembly.
It provides a chance for countries to advocate for strategic partnerships, mobilize resources and campaign for interventions aimed at ending the devastating birth complication.
Obstetric fistula is a devastating childbirth injury that leaves women and girls incontinent and often stigmatized and isolated from their families and communities.
It occurs as a result of obstructed labour causing a hole in the bladder and/or bowel of patients. Such patients are constantly leaking urine and or faeces from their Virgina.
In most cases where such condition occurs, the baby dies during childbirth. However, the good news is that fistula is entirely preventable and treatable.
Testifying during the commemoration of the day, Sarah Bangura, fistula survivor thanked the government, donor partners and lamented her devastating experience while going through the condition. Bangura went through caesarian operation at Coutage Hospital and was later informed she has fistula.
Globally, 500,000 women and girls are estimated to be suffering from the devastating impact of obstetric fistula condition, UNFPA Deputy Country Representative, Sibeso Mululuma said, adding that data on fistula in Sierra Leone is not available, but about 2,400 women are estimated to be living with obstetric fistula in the country.
She also said fistula remains devastating and continue to afflict women in the country, but the condition is preventable.
She thanked the Iceland government for its comment to the fight against fistula, and assured UNFPA’s continued commitment to supporting the Government of Sierra Leon.
In 2003, UNFPA and its partners launched a global campaign to End Fistula in line with international targets to improve maternal and newborn health and with the goal of making fistula as rare in developing countries as it is in industrialized world.
Sierra Leone is one of the 50 countries participating in the campaign. The participating countries focus on areas such as prevention, treatment and rehabilitation and reintegration.
UNFPA supports the Government of Sierra Leone in the campaign to end obstetric fistula. It also works with partners like Aberdeen Women Centre and Haikal Foundation in Bo in the areas of community mobilization and engagement in the identification and referral of women with fistula and providing fistula repair surgery.
In addition, UNFPA, through implementing partners, provides psychosocial support, rehabilitation and social reintegration services to fistula survivors after surgery, which includes equipping fistula survivors with knowledge and skills in income generating activities such as in tailoring, gardening, weaving and tie-dye techniques among others.
In 2021, with funding from the Government of Iceland, 353 women were screened for obstetric fistula out of which 184 had fistula repair surgery with a 93 per cent success rate. Since 2011, Aberdeen Women’s Centre, with UNFPA funding, has successfully surgically repaired 1,731 women and girls who presented with obstetric fistula.
Testifying during the commemoration, Sarah Bangura, fistula survivor thanked the government, donor partners and lamented her devastating experience while going through the condition. Bangura went through caesarian operation at Coutage Hospital and was later informed she has fistula.
“I can’t sit among people, she lamented. I became depressed so much that I ended up at the psychiatric treatment at Kissy for two weeks,” she lamented.
Haikal founder, Haja Hawa Turay called on donor partners to think about what happens to fistula patients when they get back home, while Country Director for Abeerden Women’s Centre, Rebecca Lacssou called for an end to early marriage and a need to stop teenage pregnancy.