Statement

Leaving no one behind: Let us commit to ending fistula now!

23 May 2018

Statement of UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem on the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, 23 May 2018

Pregnancy and childbirth should be among the happiest of occasions in a woman’s life. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many of the world’s poorest and most marginalized women. Obstetric fistula, a childbirth injury caused by prolonged, obstructed labour without prompt medical attention, is silently robbing millions 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.

Fistula, which has been virtually eliminated in wealthier countries, is a serious human rights violation, a reflection of health systems’ failures, and a tragic sign of global social injustice and inequity.

Many fistula survivors, like Amina Mba from Cameroon, are girls who become pregnant while still physically immature. After being married off as a child, Amina became pregnant at 13 and developed a fistula due to obstructed labour. The condition left Amina incontinent, and the stigma left her alone to fend for herself, after being abandoned by her husband and family.

The global Sustainable Development Goals are a bold and aspirational call to leave no one behind, especially those most marginalized, forgotten, and voiceless. The theme of this year’s International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, “Leaving no one behind: let us commit to ending fistula now!”, underscores the stark reality that failing to eliminate fistula jeopardizes the world’s chances of attaining many of these goals.

We have come a long way. Since 2003, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, leader of the global Campaign to End Fistula, has, with its partners, supported nearly 100,000 life-transforming surgeries to heal the physical and psychological wounds of fistula survivors. That includes Amina, who was healed last year after living with fistula for seven years. Yet, more than two million women and girls worldwide still suffer from the condition.

It is time we end the needless suffering caused by fistula, in keeping with the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. Let us commit to putting the furthest behind first and ensuring human rights, well-being and dignity for all. UNFPA is committed to ending fistula within a generation, and we call upon the world to join us in this bold endeavour.