- More than 300 of the hundreds of thousands of Nigerian women living with fistula, a debilitating and sometimes fatal childbirth injury, have been treated surgically in the first week of a UN co-sponsored campaign throughout Nigeria. "Fistula Fortnight," which ends on 6 March, started last Monday at four renovated hospitals in the north.
The campaign to improve women health in Nigeria focused on the northern half of the country, an area where the problem is particularly severe. The "Fistula Fortnight" was inaugurated on 22 February with an official launch at the Babbar Ruga Hospital in Katsina, one of northern Nigeria's main cities.
Lack of medical care during prolonged, obstructed labour damages the mother's soft pelvic tissues and creates a hole, or fistula, in her bladder and/or rectum. The injury is usually fatal for the baby, while causing severe physical and emotional trauma to the estimated 400,000 to 800,000 Nigerian mothers who may end up suffering from incontinence, infections, nerve damage and social ostracisation.
- Fistula is so preventable, said Gloria Esegbona, a Briton of Nigerian descent and one of the four international doctors participating in the Fistula Fortnight project, sponsored in part by the UN's Population Fund (UNFPA) and Nigerian authorities. "I just hate to think what these women's lives would be like without the surgery," she added.
Fistula is curable through the reconstructive surgery the medical team is providing, with typical success rates of 90 percent for uncomplicated cases and about 60 percent for complex conditions, according to UNFPA statistics.
To make sure that the Fistula Fortnight project has a long term effect on women's health in Nigeria, it also includes training of local medics. A team of 12 volunteer Nigerian surgeons and four doctors living in the US and UK thus are training another 12 Nigerian physicians, 40 nurses and 40 social workers in fistula surgery and the special patient after-care needed.
- In Nigeria, women are acknowledged as primary providers of health care for their families and communities, said Gaji Fatima Dantata, the Commissioner for Women's Affairs in northern Kano State. "However, because of cultural practices, social inhibitions, illiteracy and low social status, their own health concerns and needs are often overlooked," she added.
Nigeria may have one of the highest rates of fistula in the world. It is estimated that as many as 800,000 women could be living with fistula in the country, with another 20,000 new cases each year.
Obstetric fistula tends to be common in countries with high maternal mortality rates. In Nigeria, a woman has a 1 in 18 lifetime risk of dying of complications of childbirth - a stark contrast to Europe, where the figure is 1 in 2,400.
- We hope that the Fistula Fortnight will help to heal wounds and renew hope for hundreds of women suffering from fistula in Nigeria, commented Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, as the project started last week. "It is one step to help address the tremendous backlog of patients and get care to those in need."
Also the Nigerian federal government praised the project at its launch. Rita Akpan, Nigeria's Minister of Women Affairs, said that she on behalf of the government would join in to "redouble the efforts to solve the problem of fistula in Nigeria." Swe thanked UNFPA, development partners, faith-based organisations, other organisations, traditional and religious leaders for their cooperation.
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