Ghana, today joined the rest of the world to mark the ‘International Day to End Obstetric Fistula’ with a call for investment in quality health care for pregnant women, a guarantee to end obstetric fistula.
Speaking to the Ghana News Agency on the theme for this year’s International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, “End Fistula Now: Invest in Quality Healthcare, Empower Communities!”, Dr Gabriel Yao-Kumah Ganyaglo, an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital and a Fistula Surgeon said education on the causes of obstetric fistula was key.
He explained that, “of the several community level factors that could increase the likelihood of an obstetric fistula occurring, lack of education on the causes of obstetric fistula is the most fundamental. It is the one fact if known, can engender community level interventions to address or reduce delays in reaching a health facility.”
He stressed that, “Understanding that a girl must finish growing before marriage and child bearing will inure to avoiding child marriages and other harmful traditional practices.”
Dr Ganyaglo called for the empowerment of communities with education on the causes of obstetric fistula, sexual and reproductive health rights, which would be an additional guarantee to end obstetric fistula.
The Obstetric Fistula Surgeon explained that quality in health care had six dimensions- Safety, Effectiveness, Patient centeredness, Timeliness, Efficiency, and Equity and, “with these quality metrics in the health care setting, the theme serves as reminder.”
Dr Ganyaglo said it was unfortunate that Obstetric Fistula, which could be eliminated if all hands were on deck, was not being given the needed attention.
He expressed the worry budget had not been allocated to run activities in the quest to create awareness about Obstetric Fistula and called on the Ghana Health Service, Ministries of Finance, Gender Children and Social Protection, Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs and Local Government and Rural Development to come together to help to address the condition in Ghana.
“We need to have a national dialogue on this and as a country, we need to own the programme to eliminate obstetric fistula, adding, “Together, we can end fistula in Ghana”.
International Obstetric Fistula Day is observed globally every year on May 23 to significantly raise awareness and intensify actions towards ending obstetric fistula and urge post-surgery follow-up and tracking of fistula patients.
Dr Ganyaglo said many women and girls who suffered from obstetric fistula, an injury of the birth canal after prolonged and obstructed delivery were subjected to isolation, shame and segregation.
He explained that due to poverty, they were unable to receive prompt medical treatment and that deprived them of their health and dignity, describing that as a violation of their human rights.
“No woman or girl should be deprived of her dignity, hopes and dreams. It is their right. We should not hide them or stigmatize them since the stigma and shame alone can kill them. They need our love and assistance to have the fistula repaired and be integrated back into society,” Dr Ganyaglo added.
Obstetric Fistula is a distressing complication of prolonged, obstructed labour, resulting in the leakage of urine or faeces or both through the vagina.
The smell of the leaking urine, faeces or both is constant and humiliating. This, if left untreated, could lead to chronic medical problems including ulcerations and kidney diseases.
A study, carried out by the Ghana Health Service in 2015, estimated that about 1,300 new cases of fistula occur every year and yet, less than 100 cases are repaired each year leaving 1, 200 cases without care.
Dr Ganyaglo noted that women suffering from obstetric fistula were in all regions of the country and urged individuals and corporate bodies to support the Government to repair, restore, and empower women with the challenge.
He advised women who suffered from fistula conditions to report to the health facility and urged families with such patients to take them to the health facility for the necessary assistance.
Professor Anyetei Lassey Chairman of the National Obstetric Fistula Task Force in Ghana, expressed worry over the failure of government to make the treatment of Obstetric Fistula cases free, saying, if this is done, it will be a big relief and more cases will be repaired.
“Today is the International Day to end Obstetric Fistula. This day is not for celebration but rather, for action to eliminate Obstetric Fistula. Let us put our shoulders to the wheel in combined action to end this preventable ailment,” he added.
Each year, between 50,000 to 100,000 women worldwide are affected by obstetric fistula, with an estimation of more than two million young women living with untreated obstetric fistula in Asia and sub- Saharan Africa.
The menace is a historical issue in the developed world. However, it is still prevalent in poor resource countries like Ghana. This is based on the fact that about two million women in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia are still suffering from the disorder.