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Social Issues
The Global Crisis That’s Affecting Women, Girls & Babies
May 23, 2013
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Millions of women and adolescent girls are suffering, physically and emotionally, because of obstetric fistula. This year, the UN has officially declared today, May 23, the Day to End Fistula.

If you're not familiar with the condition, obstetric fistula is a hole in the birth canal caused by prolonged labour without prompt medical help.

The condition is rare in Western Europe and North America, thanks to the availability of medical care. But it affects an estimated two to three million women and girls in the developing world, according to the UN, with 50,000 new cases each year.

There are two terrible outcomes of fistula: first, in about 90 per cent of cases the baby is stillborn, or dies soon after birth.

And second, the woman becomes incontinent as a result of a fistula, leaking urine and fecal matter uncontrollably.

end-fistula-full.jpg

In many communities, the condition leads to women being abandoned by their husband and shunned by others, left to suffer alone.

It's a terrible situation, and one that doesn't necessarily get the attention it deserves. But it's also solvable.

According to the UN, "through prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation, this global health crisis can end once and for all, and make the problem as rare in the developing world as it is in Western Europe and North America."

To date, the Fistula Foundation, Direct Relief and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) have teamed up to provide medical care to more than 34,000 women and girls who are affected.

"Two million women living with this disabling and often isolating condition after having suffered the loss of a child is an enormous human tragedy that is hidden in plain sight because of the nature of the condition and where the women live," said Lindsey Pollaczek, Senior Program Manager for Direct Relief.

"Because fistula has been virtually eliminated in the developed world for more than a century, we know it can be done everywhere, and we are working to make that a reality for all women no matter their economic situation."

You can see the progress they've made on the Global Fistula Map (click the image to visit the interactive site):

end-fistula-map.jpg

But as the site points out, for every woman who receives care, 50 go without.

To raise awareness and money, the United Nations is holding a special observance today with fistula survivors, advocates and practitioners who are working to put an end to the condition.

2013 is also the 10th anniversary of the Campaign to End Fistula, which was begun by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) as a way of getting the attention of the public, as well as policymakers, health officials, and communities in affected countries.

For an overview of their work over the past 10 years, check out this 10th anniversary edition of Dispatch, the campaign's magazine.

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