International Day to End Obstetric Fistula. Eight years of fighting the neglected disease

Madrid, 22nd May. Since the start of its activities in 2012, the Women for Africa Foundation has dedicated most of its health efforts to care for obstetric fistula. A neglected, stigmatizing evil that, according to United Nations data, affects between two and three and a half million women, majority of which are African women.

It is estimated that new cases between 50,000 and 100,000 are registered each year. The seriousness of this disease and the figures that illustrate it, contrast with the great lack of knowledge that exists in developed countries where fistula practically ceased to occur when adequate monitoring of pregnancy and delivery care became widespread.

On the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, observed on the 23rd of May, we premiered a beautiful short animation (see here) made by our collaborating association in Ghana, Wildaf, to sensitize society about this disease, to emphasize that it can be cured and to condemn the enormous injustice and suffering endured by women who are its stigmatization victims.

This is a new action among those carried out by Women for Africa during the development of the Stop Fistula Project, with which we have fought against this disease, both in prevention and treatment of those who have already contracted it, as well as generating knowledge and social awareness about the terrible circumstances it creates.

The Stop Fistula Project completed in 2019 has evolved in Liberia since May 2013, the date on which the Fistula Unit was launched by Women for Africa at Saint Joseph Hospital in Monrovia by the then President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and the President of Women for Africa, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega.

The Project aimed to prevent and cure the largest number of fistula cases through a triple action approach: prevention through awareness-raising activities and facilitating access to antenatal consultations and birth care for the most vulnerable women particularly girls and young women under the age of 20 who give birth to their first child and those who have a still or obstructed births; through therapeutic action, women who already suffer from fistula are operated on. In both cases, medical-health care was completely free. And the third approach was articulated through the training of local health personnel.

During the course of this Project, 7 surgical missions have been carried out in which 196 women have undergone surgery, more than 4,000 deliveries have been attended and more than 20,000 antenatal consultations have been carried out. Likewise, continuous training courses have been offered to more than 200 health professionals and awareness-raising actions have been undertaken with nearly 2,000 people in different towns.

All this action in Liberia started with an awareness campaign led by one of our patron ambassadors, footballer Xabi Alonso. Through posters and radio and television advertisements, an intensive outreach and awareness-raising effort was carried out which provided an adequate framework for health work. See spot

However, it is also necessary to provide information about fistula in Spain, a task which we have also undertaken along with the great companionship of Dr. José Manuel Devesa, who in addition to being an expert surgeon, is an enormously committed professional and from his experience is knowledgeable about the dramatic effects that fistula has on African women.

Dr. Devesa converted that experience into a novel, “Take me to Farafangana”, in which he tells the story of a young woman from Madagascar who contracts fistula on her first delivery and how she is rejected by her husband and society. A story that is repeated every day throughout Africa.

Therefore, in order to make it known in Spain, Women for Africa published the novel in a printed edition that was lavishly presented by the author Almudena Grandes. When the edition was sold out, which also coincided with the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, we made the novel available to readers on our website, where it can still be freely downloaded for reading.

The work of raising awareness is still on-going especially in Ghana, thanks to the beautiful animated short film that we presented today, which we hope will reach far and wide not only in Ghana but in the entire continent.

And in Ghana at the University Hospital of Tamale, a new phase of Stop Fistula will start as soon as the covid-19 pandemic allows it, once the Project in Liberia is concluded.

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