Obstetric fistula is a devastating yet completely preventable and, in many cases, treatable injury of childbirth. It leaves women, and many girls, incontinent and often stigmatized, abused and isolated from families and communities. At least 2 million women and girls live with the condition, and 50,000 to 100,000 new cases occur every year.
The fact that fistula persists primarily among the poorest and most marginalized women and girls in the world is an egregious outcome of social, economic and gender inequalities, the denial of human rights and inadequate access to quality reproductive health services, including maternal and newborn care. We can and must put an end to this needless suffering.
We mark this International Day with the theme, “End fistula, restore women’s dignity”. I call on world leaders to commit to ending the scourge of fistula in our lifetime. To achieve this goal, every fistula-affected nation needs to develop an inclusive, costed and time-bound national strategy and action plan. The international community must also significantly intensify support to nations with the greatest need.
To address the neglected health and human rights issues of fistula, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and its partners, launched the global Campaign to End Fistula. In the twelve years since this effort began, much has been accomplished, including providing relief to more than 57,000 women and girls through fistula surgical repairs. However, much more needs to be done.
Echoing the December 2014 United Nations General Assembly resolution on ending fistula, I urge the international community to speed up its efforts to end this condition. This needs to be part of a far-reaching and inclusive sustainable development agenda to improve sexual and reproductive and newborn health, strengthen health systems, eliminate health inequities and increase levels and predictability of funding.
We have a moral obligation, as a global community, to complete the unfinished agenda of eradicating fistula. Together, let us keep our promises to support universal human rights and ensure the health and dignity of women and girls everywhere.