More than 300 delegates gathered in Dhaka, Bangladesh last week at the International Society of Obstetric Fistula Surgeons (ISOFS) Congress 2012. The meeting theme this year: Fistula: An Injustice to Women- Let’s Work to Bring Justice, calls upon all of us to work together to address this devastating childbirth injury, suffered by an estimated 2 million women in developing countries.
The meeting is well attended by fistula surgeons, public health professionals, and advocates from more than 35 countries, all eager to share the latest research and achievements, and discuss remaining challenges in our work to treat, prevent, and rehabilitate women with obstetric fistula.
On behalf of Direct Relief, I presented the Global Fistula Map—the largest and most comprehensive source of information for fistula treatment services worldwide—at Thursday’s Plenary Session.
The map, which was launched in February 2012 and recently highlighted in the UN Secretary General Report on efforts to end obstetric fistula, has been an important tool to help improve our understanding of the current capacity for fistula treatment, enhance collaboration, and improve allocation of scarce resources to help more women living with this debilitating condition.
The Global Fistula Map currently displays over 175 facilities in 40 countries that provided roughly 15,000 fistula surgeries in 2010—a far cry from what is needed to address the estimated 50,000-100,000 new cases each year, not to mention the estimated 2 million women currently living with the condition.
The conference has been an excellent opportunity to interact with many renowned surgeons that Direct Relief supports with essential surgical and medical supplies for fistula repair, and a great forum to meet additional surgeons and advocates that are likely to be excellent future partners.
Direct Relief has been supplying medical and surgical supplies to hospitals providing fistula repair services since 2003, and currently works with 10 facilities in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. We are excited to continue this work, and expand our network to do even more.
Among the many great colleagues I interacted with, it was particularly great to catch up with Dr. Steve Arrowsmith, one of the most well-known and respected fistula surgeons in the world, who is also once of the nicest and most genuine people I know (and loves to tell corny jokes).
Just a few weeks ago, we were able to respond immediately to an urgent request from Dr. Arrowsmith for a year’s supply of sutures, one of the most critical supplies for fistula surgery, which were provided by Ethicon, one of Direct Relief’s many healthcare company partners actively supporting fistula repair efforts.
Dr. Arrowsmith had just come from Cox’s Bazar Hospital for Women and Children in southern Bangladesh, a hospital that Direct Relief has been working with for over three years, where his objective was to provide additional fistula repair training to the local surgeon and treat as many women as possible (they managed to do 24 cases).
It was fantastic to hear about the work being done at Cox’s Bazar Hospital from our main contact, Dr. Iftikher Mahmood, the founder of the hospital, and Kate Grant of the Fistula Foundation (also a terrific Direct Relief partner), who is providing funding to support the fistula surgery at the hospital.
I left the conference inspired and invigorated by the many fantastic individuals I have met and reconnected with at this conference. With so many talented and committed people in this community I feel fired up that we can really make a big difference in the lives of women living with obstetric fistula, particularly if we work together to really move this important work forward.