As the world observes the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula today, Liberia is accounting for one of the highest rates of maternal and newborn mortalities.
The country’s rate stands at 1072/100,000 live births. This means that at least four women die every day as a result of pregnancy-related causes.
The major causes of these deaths among pregnant women include bleeding, complications of unsafe abortions, infections, eclampsia and obstructed labor. Other indirect causes are anemia, malaria, HIV and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM).
Prolonged or obstructed labor often leads to Obstetric Fistula, which is one of the most serious injuries of childbearing. Obstetric Fistula is a hole in the birth canal caused by prolonged, obstructed labor in the absence of timely and adequate medical care.
It causes incontinence or loss of bladder control for sufferers. This embarrassing condition most often excludes victims from daily community life. They may be abandoned by their husbands and families, isolating them socially and emotionally and making it also difficult to maintain a source of income or support. Deepening poverty magnifies the suffering of these individuals.
“The persistence of fistula reflects broader health inequities and healthcare system constraints, as well as wider challenges facing women and girls, such as poverty, gender and socioeconomic inequality, lack of schooling, child marriage and early childbearing. All of these circumstances impede the well-being of and opportunities for women and girls,” the UNFPA said in a statement.
The International Day to End Fistula is used to reflect on progress made, to raise awareness, and to generate new political and financial support for the Campaign to End Fistula, which is urgently needed to address this severely neglected health and human rights tragedy. The Day also focuses on opportunities to support the global movement to end fistula.
Activities marking today’s observance have been planned for Fish Town, River Gee County. But due to other planned engagements by the county authorities, official observance in Liberia has been moved to early June 2016.
“We are decentralizing our activities, ensuring that people outside Monrovia are equally informed about issues on fistula. The planned activities include advocacy meeting with traditional and community leaders and surgical outreach,” said organizers of the Day’s observance in a statement.
The county authorities are going to observe the Day in collaboration with the Liberia Fistula Project (LFP), which was launched in 2007 by the government of Liberia in conjunction with UNFPA.
LFP activities include Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation. It focuses on prevention because almost 50 percent of deliveries in Liberia are done outside of health facilities. The goal of the preventive program is to reduce the incidences of fistula, through health education and awareness and elimination and eradication of harmful traditional practices that often lead to the development of fistula. The program trains doctors and nurses in providing emergency obstetric care services.
Under its treatment activity, over 1,300 patients from all parts of the country have benefited from surgery since the launch of the program. The Project performs surgery on patients at Phebe Hospital and C.B. Dunbar Hospital, Bong County; and the Liberian Government Hospital,
Tubmanburg, Bomi County, which has a dedicated Fistula Ward.
The Project’s third focus area—Rehabilitation and Reintegration—is carried out at a rehab center at the Phebe Hospital and is supported by UNFPA. Fistula survivors who have successfully undergone surgeries are often enrolled in the rehabilitation program for easy reintegration into their communities.