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Obstetric Fistula cases threat to SDGs attainment in Nigeria – UN Chief Edward Kallon

The UN Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, says the rising cases of obstetric fistula in Nigeria is a clear case of violation of the right of women to reproductive health and contraceptive care.

Kallon said this in a statement released and sent to Newsclickng.com on Sunday to commemorate the 2021 International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, annually celebrated on May 23 around the globe to raise awareness about the condition.

The day has “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights! End Fistula Now!” as theme for this year.

Newsclickng.com reports that obstetric fistula, also known as Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF), is a medical condition in which a hole develops in the birth canal as a result of childbirth, resulting in incontinence of urine or feces.

VVF is usually caused by prolong or obstructed labour.

Kallon said studies had shown that the denial of bodily autonomy contribute to high level of morbidity.

He explained that “obstetric fistula is one of the most serious and tragic childbirth injuries. A hole between the birth canal and bladder and/or rectum is caused by prolonged obstructed labour without access to timely, high-quality medical treatment.

“It leaves women incontinent, and often leads to chronic medical problems, depression and deepening poverty.”

According to him, leaving no one behind is a major focus of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and if nothing concrete is done to address the menace of fistula, Nigeria will be left out.

He noted that “eliminating fistula is a key element of ‘leaving no-one behind’ and the world risks failing to achieve the SDG targets if there is still a woman or girl left in the world who is suffering from fistula and neglected.

“The theme for this year — Women’s rights are human rights! End fistula now!’ Fistula is not just a health issue – it is a women’s rights issue.

“A woman’s right to decide if and when she has children is vital to achieving equality for women and girls. Women need to be fully empowered to make their own decisions about sexual and reproductive health and about contraception.

“The denial of bodily autonomy is not just a violation of women and girls’ fundamental human rights, but studies show that where women’s decision-making is constrained, higher levels of morbidity (such as obstetric fistula) and mortality result,” he said.

Giving details of the situation in Nigeria, the UN official said “there is an estimated 150,000 women and girls in Nigeria suffering from the avoidable ailment, with 13,000 new cases recorded annually.”

He said that with COVID-19 and the pressure on health systems, there is an expected increase in the number of cases, especially with decreased access to family planning and a rise in child marriages.

Kallon added that fistula was avoidable and could be treated, pointing out however that the intervention of the UN was only able to provide surgical treatment to 2,000 females annually, leaving a huge backlog.

He said “we need to scale up and scale up fast. Less than 2,000 surgical repairs are performed annually here, leaving a huge backlog in untreated fistula that will take decades to clear at the current rate.

“Today, we lend our voice to a most worthy cause in commemorating the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula. This pregnancy-related disability is now unheard of in developed nations, yet  two million women in the developing world are affected by this life shattering condition.

“Each new case should and can be prevented when women get timely high-quality maternity care, including skilled birth attendant, midwifery care and emergency obstetric care.

“In Nigeria, the UN will support the government’s Obstetric Fistula Strategic Plan for 2019-2023 which outlines a vision of a fistula-free Nigeria. Let us work together to make that vision a reality.

“I call on Nigerians and all stakeholders in society to consider the plight of women and girls affected by obstetric fistula. Today is the day to reaffirm our commitment to ending this dreadful condition and to redouble our efforts,” he said.

He also urged stakeholders to strengthen health systems and maternal medical care, promote women’s rights, empower women and girls with autonomy in their decision-making, increase availability and affordability of fistula treatment, and increase fund allocation, particularly for obstetric fistula.

“Let us provide hope, healing and dignity for all. The time to act is now,” he added.

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