Commemorating the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula in Bungoma County this year was a powerful reminder of this condition’s devastating impact on women and girls. Obstetric fistula is a severe health condition that occurs during obstructed childbirth when a hole forms between the birth canal and bladder or rectum, leading to the uncontrollable leakage of urine and faeces. This condition affects women and girls, causing physical problems, infections, infertility, social stigma, and increased poverty. Over 500,000 women and girls live with the preventable condition worldwide, and so far, 120,000 surgeries have been conducted since 2003 under UNFPA.
This year’s International Day to End Obstetric Fistula themed “20 years on- progress but not enough” highlighted the need for the international community to intensify their efforts in the fight against the scourge afflicting underserved and marginalised women and girls. It is under these auspices that a fistula camp was held to commemorate the day with various partners and stakeholders, including Amref Health Africa in Kenya, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Mpesa Foundation, Flying Doctor Society of Africa (FDSA), Royal Media services, the County Government of Bungoma and the Beyond Zero Campaign came together to restore the dignity and improve the lives of women suffering from fistula at Webuye County Hospital, Bungoma County.
During his introductory remarks, Amref Health Africa in Kenya’s Reproductive, Maternal and child health programmes manager, Mr John Kutna, emphasised the importance of shared value partnerships in achieving the Campaign to End Fistula goal by 2030, encouraging the partners present to increase collaboration. He said.
Dr Dan Okoro from UNFPA also acknowledged the milestones accomplished in the 20 years of the campaign but stressed the urgency of eliminating obstetric fistula in Africa. He called for collective action and reiterated each person’s crucial role in ending fistula and improving the quality of healthcare in Bungoma County and the entire country.
“We must rally together, and each one has a role to play in the struggle to end fistula and improve the lives of our women and girls. Together we can accelerate the progress towards elimination of fistula in our land,” he stated.
Everlyn Musima, a beneficiary in one of our fistula camps, testified on suffering fistula for two decades, saying, “Ignorance is expensive as I suffered for over 20 years until I heard about the campaign on the radio through Royal Media Services. After treatment, I am a happy woman with my dignity and peace restored”. Everlyn received her fistula surgery in Kenyatta National Hospital in 2014.
Addressing the participants of the fistula medical camp, Governor Kenneth Lusaka of Bungoma County expressed his gratitude to all partners for their efforts in eliminating fistula in the county. He recognised women’s health’s pivotal role in building strong communities and highlighted the link between obstetric fistula and increased poverty. Governor Lusaka also denounced cultural practices such as gender-based violence and pledged to end them.
“As a county, we aren’t walking this journey alone. Amref, UNFPA, Mpesa Foundation, and Beyond Zero have been our partners since 2018. I thank them so much,” he said. The eight-day Fistula medical camp that took place from May 19th – 26th, 2023, enabled 400 women to be screened and 49 women admitted for fistula surgery.
Amref Health Africa has continuously implemented initiatives to improve maternal, newborn and child health in Kenya with support from UNFPA. The interventions were geared towards improving the quality of care in maternal and newborn health, thereby contributing to eliminating preventable maternal deaths. This has been achieved through the enhanced national capacity for prevention, treatment and social reintegration for obstetric fistula by advocating for the prevention and treatment of obstetric fistula by conducting fistula camps, building the capacity of Health Care Workers on prevention and management of obstetric Fistula and developing and launching of 2 essential policy documents on fistula: Female Genital Fistula National Strategic Framework and Female Genital Fistula training manual for healthcare workers.
Author – Dinah Karwitha, Communications and Research Assistant, Amref Health Africa