The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has provided US$126,919 worth of assistance for the rehabilitation of the treatment unit for fistula patients (US$80,000) and (US$46,919) to support victims, including education.
Marcel Alain de Souza, president of the ECOWAS Commission, presented the check yesterday during the celebration of International Day to end Obstetric Fistula at the Monrovia City Hall, under the theme, “ECOWAS Restoring Hope and Dignity for Fistula Survivors.”
Obstetric fistula, which is often unrecognized by majority of the population, is a condition that manifests itself in an uncontrollable leakage of urine and or stool due to perforation of a woman’s birth canal, leading to urinary tract infections and strong odors.
President Souza said the root causes of fistula are early or forced marriage, early childbearing, female genital mutilation (female circumcision), absence of prenatal consultations and medical assistance at the time of delivery, malnutrition, poverty, among others.
He noted that childbearing condition affects young women aged 15 to 24 and older women living in rural areas, adding that “Many women who suffer from fistula are ostracized from community life and abandoned by their husbands or loved ones and families.”
President Souza said the 2017 celebration provides the opportunity to take stock of the problem of fistula in the West Africa region and also engage the community, particularly ECOWAS member states, to accelerate the implementation of solutions to eradicate it.
Souza said the ECOWAS Commission, through its Center for Gender Development, took the initiative in 2010 to implement a program to provide medical and financial support to women and girls who are victims of fistula in member states.
He said the program is a response to the debilitating social and economic problems that affect women and girls in the region.
President Souza said as part of the program’s implementation, the Department for Social and Gender Affairs in 2015 developed an ECOWAS Regional Action Plan for the fight against Obstetric fistula in West Africa, in collaboration with UNFPA.
The document supports all interventions by ECOWAS member countries in the fight against fistula, he said.
Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, who received the check, lauded the ECOWAS Commission, and the ECOWAS Gender Development Center for the support in the fight against fistula.
VP Boakai said the Liberian government has been providing support to women with inoperable fistula cases and those survivors with a degree of continence, stating that “We have provided medical and material support as well as income generating activities.”
To enforce this fight, he said, Liberia has six doctors and more than seventy nurses, midwives and physician assistants who have been trained and have treated 875 fistula patients.
Dr. Fatimata Dia Sow, ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, who gave the keynote address, extended her solidarity to all women suffering from fistula on this International Day, which is set aside to convey sympathy, but also commitment to stamp out the disease in West Africa.
Dr. Sow said the issue of obstetric fistula affects a category of women that is often forgotten because they sometimes live far from health centers and areas where they cannot access opportunities.
To reverse the trend, he said, ECOWAS through its Gender Development Center, has launched an ambitious program to combat obstetric fistula within the objective of training, socially and economically reintegrating 1,500 patients in the region per year.
She said the center is working with specialists to provide fistula repair surgery to victims, plus psychological and financial assistance, as well as to organize awareness campaigns to prevent the scourge.
Dr. Sow said despite efforts by ECOWAS member countries to improve the reproductive health of women and girls, it is still among the zones with the highest number of women with fistula, 50,000 to 100,000 cases per year, quoting a World Health Organization 2009 report.