As the New Year begins, Direct Relief is excited to announce a new program that aims to significantly increase the availability of obstetric fistula treatment and to improve prevention efforts to reduce the occurrence of this devastating childbirth injury in Pakistan.
Obstetric fistula is a hole in the birth canal caused by prolonged and obstructed labor without prompt medical intervention. Fistula affects impoverished women in remote areas, far from medical care, and causes chronic incontinence which can lead to severe medical problems and social ostracization.
According to the Pakistan National Forum on Women’s Health, approximately 4,000-5,000 new cases of fistula occur annually in Pakistan, although the current capacity to treat women with fistula in Pakistan remains at about 400-500 women per year.
The End Fistula Challenge Program is a partnership between Direct Relief, Janum Network, Abu Zafar Institute of Medical Sciences (AZIMS), and the Fistula Foundation, that focuses on expanding treatment to five hospitals in high-risk districts in the remote areas of Pakistan with the goal of providing life-restoring fistula repair surgery for 400 women over the next 12 months.
Considering that approximately 400 women received fistula repair in Pakistan in 2011, this program will double the number of women in the country receiving treatment this year. Financial constraints, lack of skilled human resources, and low awareness about treatment availability are all leading constraints that impede access to fistula treatment, which this program seeks to address.
To improve awareness of obstetric fistula in the remote areas and increase the number of women seeking treatment, the program will focus on training 200 Lady Health Workers who will work with members of their community to increase knowledge of treatment availability and prevention activities.
To ensure adequate human resource availability to meet the demand for treatment, the program will focus on providing training in fistula management and ensuring that the selected centers are staffed with adequate skilled human resources to provide high quality fistula care. The capacity building will also focus on fistula prevention through training of midwives, doctors, and gynecologists in the high-risk districts in order to improve management of emergency obstetric and newborn care and early detection of obstructed labor in order to reduce the incidence of this condition.
Finally, rehabilitation of women following fistula repair surgery will be an important component of the program, to ensure that women can return to being productive members of their communities as well as take the necessary steps to reduce the risk of a repeat fistula. Women will receive health education sessions and vocational skill development training after they have healed from their fistula surgery.
Direct Relief is thrilled to start 2013 with the initiation of such an important partnership that will do so much to transform the lives of women living with obstetric fistula and help prevent needless suffering through critical prevention efforts.