First Lady Margaret Kenyatta has asked women hiding under the shame of fistula to be assisted in seeking medical help so that they can continue with their normal lives.
“I urge that we seek out more of our mothers who are hidden away while suffering from this condition and encourage them to seek help”, Margaret said on Monday.
She was speaking when she opened an International Conference on Reproductive Health at Kenyatta University, Nairobi.
The three-day conference, under the theme of “Ending Obstetric Fistula in a Generation” is part of the commemorations to mark the World Fistula Day, observed today.
Other related activities include an ongoing Fistula screening and medical intervention of the condition at Gatundu Level 5 hospital.
Obstetric Fistula is a devastating and demeaning condition caused by prolonged obstructed labour, leaving a woman with insufficient voluntary control over urination. It also causes suffering, indignity and disability. The condition is preventable and treatable.
Strong smells occasioned by this condition forces many affected women to remain in hiding away from any public interactions including being shunned by insensitive family members. Separation and divorce are some of the other consequences of the condition.
Globally, an estimated 2 million mothers suffer the stigma of Obstetric Fistula while giving birth.
In Kenya 3,000 new cases of the condition are reported annually although there are fears many more mothers could be suffering in silence and seclusion due to shame and public humiliation.
“This situation is unacceptable and should not be allowed to persist,” Margaret said.
She said childbirth anywhere in the world is a time for celebration, yet in many cases in Africa (including Kenya), childbirth ends with serious and tragic life-threatening complications that bring untold suffering to women.
“This forum (the conference) presents us all with an opportunity to seriously reflect on the challenges that continue to impede us from achieving our national maternal and child health targets”, she said.
The First Lady is the patron of the innovative Beyond Zero campaign whose key goals include addressing challenges of maternal health, new-borns and children.
She said the current generation must commit itself and find ways to end Obstetric Fistula.
“We have come together to refine our strategy, renew our commitment and put all necessary measures to ensure that we are the generation that will end obstetric fistula”, Margaret said.
She said the campaign to end the condition has enhanced the visibility and knowledge of Obstetric Fistula worldwide but observed that this campaign is still under-resourced and requires far more financial and human resources to achieve its goals.
“More needs to be done to prevent labour and delivery complications”, Margaret said, adding that prevention is the key to ending fistulae.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) aims to eradicate fistula across the world.
“Ensuring skilled birth attendance at all births and providing emergency obstetric care for all women who develop complications during delivery would make fistula as rare in developing countries as in the industrialized world”, says UNFPA in one of its statements.
The First Lady said other issues that need to be addressed include access to health services and education, including gender equality, bringing child marriages to an end and eradication of marginalization of women and girls.
She said if these issues are properly addressed, maternal disability and death could be reduced by 20 per cent.
Margaret thanked Kenyatta University for hosting the conference adding that its theme—ending Obstetric Fistula in a generation-fits within the agenda of the conference on Reproductive Health.
She was received at the university by among others, the convener of the conference Prof Margaret Keraka, Principal Secretaries Julius Korir (Health), and Colleta Suda (Education), Acting UNFPA Country Representative Gift Malunga and Acting Vice Chancellor Prof Paul Wainaina.
The Conference brings together both regional and international health partners and delegates from all over the world including Canada, United Kingdom, Pakistan and Somalia.