International Day to End Obstetric Fistula is observed annually on May 23rd. For an organization like Asante Africa Foundation, it’s an opportunity to raise awareness and increase education on issues that girls and women still face in many parts of the world. More importantly, it’s an opportunity to illustrate how education and engaging the community — as Sarah Omega mentions in this post— are an essential step to changing current situations for the better.
“Obstetric fistula is a childbirth injury that continues to devastate the lives of girls and women in developing countries, despite being both preventable and treatable. Caused by prolonged obstructed labor when a girl (or woman) does not have access to emergency obstetric care, an obstetric fistula is a hole that develops between the vagina and the bladder and/or rectum due to unrelenting pressure on a woman’s internal tissue and resulting tissue necrosis. Girls and women with this injury experience uncontrollable leakage of urine and/or stool, with life-shattering social consequences. They become outcasts in their communities and families, forced to live in extreme isolation.
Approximately, there are about 2 million girls and women currently living with obstetric fistula, with 30 to 50,000 new cases developing each year.
In most rural communities, girls are vulnerable because they are not given the same opportunities as boys and are sometimes forced to enter into marriages at a young age. When girls become pregnant, they are at higher risk of developing fistula due to not yet being fully developed physically. When a young girl develops fistula, the internal damage tends to be very severe, requiring multiple surgeries that may not be successful. They are likely to lose their ability to have children, a fate that is especially devastating in African communities.
One of the most important strategies for preventing fistula is to encourage and support girls to stay in school and postpone childbearing. It is important that in the marginalized rural communities, there is knowledge, awareness and skill building, so that girls don’t become victims of Obstetric Fistula. Collectively, both organizations agree, that this important work can only be done with joint efforts.
For girls already suffering from Fistula, One By One’s Let’s End Fistula program has educated 275,000 people in Western Kenya about fistula and the availability of treatment. Over 1,000 girls and women have received life-restoring surgical treatment. The key to ending fistula, however, is prevention. In 2017, we are launching Phase II of Let’s End Fistula which will focus on reintegration of fistula survivors following surgical treatment and prevention of fistula at the community level.
Asante Africa Foundation’s Girls’ Advancement Program contributes to the call through after-school training that they offer to marginalized rural girls. By also including the girl’s male peers and the rest of the community in the effort, a girl’s social, reproductive health, and financial literacy assets are built up so that she is empowered not just to continue with her education, but to also be in the position to affect change.
Together we can make efforts, to heed to call of the UN to end fistula within a generation.”
Sarah Omega Kidangasi is a Kenyan fistula survivor who has become a powerful advocate for the needs of fistula patients in Kenya and around the world. Ms. Omega developed an obstetric fistula at the age of 19 when she experienced obstructed labor during her first birth and was unable to access appropriate care. She lost her baby and lived with fistula for 12 years. Since her life-transforming treatment in 2007, Ms. Omega has been dedicated to raising awareness about obstetric fistula and helping other women who are suffering. In partnership with One By One, a US-based NGO, Ms. Omega helped establish Gynocare Fistula Center in Eldoret, Kenya. Since 2011, she has served as Program Manager for One By One’s comprehensive fistula initiative in Western Kenya, Let’s End Fistula. She also works as a consultant for Action on Fistula in Kenya.
Asante Africa Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to educating children in Africa. Asante Africa Foundation works to address the root cause that prevents children from receiving an education. We focus on a multi-effort approach that reaches out to adolescent girls, alongside women, mothers and peers so that they can learn about reproductive health and rights, as well as financial literacy and personal safety.