Press Release

2017 National Safe Motherhood Week and national commemoration of the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula

19 May 2017

Message by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund on the occasion of the 2017 National Safe Motherhood Week (15 - 19 May) and national commemoration of the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula (19 May)

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund in Zambia joins the government and people of the Republic of Zambia in commemorating the 2017 National Safe Motherhood Week under the theme “Universal access to Sexual and Reproductive Health services: Antenatal care within the first three months of pregnancy saves lives”, and the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, which will be marked globally on 23 May, under the theme “Hope, healing, and dignity for all”. This commemoration is, at its heart, a call to realize the fundamental human rights of all women and girls everywhere, with a special focus on those most left behind, excluded and shunned by society.

Pregnancy is a life changing experience for women, pleasant for many mothers, however for some women, pregnancy not only ends in devastating injury but also can result in the death of the mother and/or baby. Every day, more than 800 women die from pregnancy-related complications globally. For every woman who dies, 20 or more are injured or disabled. One of the most serious injuries of childbearing is obstetric fistula, a hole in the birth canal caused by prolonged obstructed labour in the absence of timely and adequate medical care. This condition leaves a woman incontinent of urine and/or feces. Fistula is not only a hole in a woman’s birth canal, but also indeed a hole in the health care system.

Through the Global Campaign to End Fistula, UNFPA and partners continue to draw the attention of policymakers, health officials, communities and individuals, as well as the general public to needed investments to address fistula. Globally, UNFPA has supported more than 85,000 fistula repair surgeries since 2003 and more than 15,000 cases in 2016 alone. In Zambia, UNFPA and partners have supported more than 1,900 fistula repair surgeries since 2005 and trained Fistula Surgeons and Nurses. However, much more needs to be done, as 1 in every 200 women aged 15-49 are reported to have experienced fistula.

The theme for the National Safe Motherhood Week underscores the fact that most maternal and infant deaths or illnesses could be prevented if women had access to quality and timely health care (i) before pregnancy including family planning; (ii) during pregnancy including all antenatal care visits; (iii) childbirth supported by skilled health workers; (iv) immediately after delivery to ensure the health and well-being of mother and baby; as well as (v) ensuring adolescent and young girls do not become brides and mothers when they are still babies themselves and their bodies have not matured. These prevent fistula and are key components of safe motherhood.

In his message on the occasion of the 2017 International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, the United Nations Under-Secretary General and UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin; underscores the need for greater efforts to address the underlying issues that perpetuate fistula. In his words:

“Over the past year, I followed the total transformation of two women’s lives. Alice, from Malawi, was successfully treated for obstetric fistula at the age of 83, after living with this terrible and treatable condition for 66 years. Jumwa, from Kenya, was treated at the age of 77, after living with fistula for 50 years. I have no words to describe the sense of hope, healing, and restored dignity that this treatment provided, first and foremost to these two women, but also to their loved ones.

While these are stories of hope, they are also stories of a tragedy – the tragedy being that both women ever suffered from fistula in the first place. They should never have endured the decades of discomfort and shame that could have been so easily prevented. The time has come to put an end to this suffering wherever it occurs.

Ending fistula is a high priority for UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and it is a key step on the road to achieving the world’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.  Fistula has been virtually eliminated in the world’s wealthier countries, so we know that it can be eliminated in every country. Strong health systems and greater efforts to address the underlying issues that perpetuate it, including poverty, gender inequality, early marriage and childbearing, and lack of education, are crucial. With strong political leadership, investment and action, we can end this scourge in our lifetime.”

This message resonates with Zambia’s priorities on the occasion of the 2017 National Safe Motherhood Week and the national commemoration of the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund remains committed to continue to speak and act for the poorest and most marginalized women and girls. We are confident we can transform lives into stories of hope and healing and rid the world of fistula once and for all as we also reduce preventable maternal and infant deaths.