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Safeguarding the health and right of women affected by obstetric fistula in humanitarian settings

MANTAPALA REFUGEE SETTLEMENT: Pregnancy and childbirth should be among the happiest moments in a woman’s life. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many marginalized women in Zambia.

Obstetric fistula, a childbirth injury caused by prolonged, obstructed labor when prompt medical attention is unavailable, is silently robbing thousands of women and girls of their health, hope and dignity. The condition often leaves the woman with chronic incontinence and usually results in the death of the child.

Many fistula survivors, like Mago, have been living with the devastating effects of fistula for decades. Aged 39-years, Mago fled her home in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to conflict and found shelter in Mantapala Refugee Resettlement, Luapula Province of Zambia.

Affected by child marriage, Mago developed Obstetric Fistula at the age of 14-years. Her husband divorced her as soon as she developed Fistula, and therefore Mago returned to live with her family, who later passed away during the conflict. With no one to help her, Mago fled to Zambia in 2019, a journey that was extremely difficult due to her condition. 

Through ongoing community sensitization by Safe Motherhood Action Groups (SMAGs) located in the Mantapala refugee settlement, Mago was identified by a SMAG member who supported her in accessing life-transforming Fistula surgery at Mansa General Hospital in Luapula Province, supported by UNFPA in collaboration with the Government of Zambia.

"I was very excited to be among the women who were taken to Mansa General Hospital to be treated, after living with this condition for 15 years. Shortly after my operation, I was happy to notice that I could control the passing of urine. I came back to the hospital for review this month [November 2019] and I was excited when the doctor told me that my fistula is completely repaired! My life is now back to normal because I can now walk freely without fear of people staring at my wet chitenge [a fabric worn by women and wrapped around the waist]. I feel beautiful again,” Says Mago with a big smile.

As part of the UN Zambia's joint response to the DRC emergency situation, UNFPA Zambia continues to ensure women, adolescent girls and young people within the refugee settlements in Luapula Province are able to access essential sexual and reproductive health information and services. Speaking when he visited Mansa General Hospital during a field monitoring visit, UNFPA Zambia Deputy Representative Mr Leonard Kamugisha reaffirmed UNFPA's commitments to safeguard the health and dignity of women and girls, including in humanitarian settings.