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International Day to End Obstetric Fistula

This day was designated by the UN General Assembly in December 2012. The day is used to reflect on the progress made over the last decade and raise awareness and generate new political and financial support to accelerate the efforts to address this severely neglected health and human rights tragedy.

Rationale

Everyday almost 800 women die from pregnancy-related complications. Almost half of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. For every woman that dies, 20 or more are injured or disabled. One of the most serious injuries of childbearing is obstetric fistula, which is caused by prolonged or obstructed labour in the absence of adequate emergency obstetric care.

A fistula is a hole in the birth canal created by prolonged pressure of the baby’s head against the pelvis. A woman with a fistula will continue to leak urine and/or faeces uncontrollably for the rest of her life - unless she is repaired by a trained health care provider. The consequence of this injury often includes ostracism and exclusion. Some women are even abandoned by their husbands and excluded from basic interactions with their families and communities, such as prayer and social gatherings. Moreover, their social isolation makes it extremely difficult to maintain a source of income or support, worsening their poverty and magnifying their suffering.

Obstetric fistula has virtually been eliminated in industrialized nations, but in the developing world it is estimated that 2-3 million women and girls are living with the condition and more than 50,000 new case develop each year. However, obstetric fistula is preventable and, in most cases, can be surgically repaired.