International Day to End Obstetric Fistula: Sierra Leone leading the way with data
Sierra Leone is tackling the lack of information on one of the most devastating injuries of childbirth
Lack of data is an obstacle to tackling obstetric fistula, but now Sierra Leone is addressing the dearth of information, with support from UNFPA and in partnership with development organisation Health Poverty Action and Haikal, and West Africa Fistula Foundation.
Obstetric fistula is a hole between the vagina and the urethra or the large intestine, often caused by prolonged labour without a trained health worker. Physical effects include uncontrollable discharge of urine and faeces, leading to social complications including the rejection of women by their husbands and communities, and ultimately, isolation. It can cause feelings of shame, leading to depression. Some patients may suffer nerve damage that can prevent walking, and kidney disease that can lead to death if left untreated.
Prevention and treatment
Fistula can be prevented and treated if health systems are able to provide accessible, quality maternal health care, including family planning, skilled care at birth, basic and comprehensive obstetric care, and affordable treatment after fistula occurs.
Lack of data
Governments and other partners need data on fistula to understand the issue and include measures to prevent and treat fistula in national health plans, but there is a lack of data on fistula.
Fistula usually occurs when women give birth away from a health centre, which means occurrences are often not recorded, and the isolation it causes means many women do not go to a health centre at a later date, when the fistula is continuing to affect them.
Sierra Leone is leading the way in tackling this through a new website, launched to provide comprehensive information on obstetric fistula: www.fistuladatasierraleone.org
The website includes:
- Nation-wide data including figures on known numbers of women with obstetric fistula and the percentage of women screened who have obstetric fistula.
- Demographic data such as age of occurrence, and literacy rates of women with fistula.
- A breakdown of obstetric fistula figures by district.
- Tools for health workers including an Obstetric Fistula Prevention and Repair Toolkit.
Regina Bash-Taqi, Sierra Leone Country Director at Health Poverty Action said:
“Obstetric fistula is one of the worst things a woman can go through. She loses her child and dignity in one blow. The dearth of data has been a huge obstacle to tackling it in many countries but now Sierra Leone is slowly building up the data needed. For the first time Sierra Leone has comprehensive data on line.”
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