By Victoria Ojeme
United States Agency for International Development, USAID, has launched an action that will prevent and repair complications from obstetric fistula, a debilitating condition arising during pregnancy and childbirth endured by countless Nigerian women.
The U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard disclosed this virtually in a joint meeting with the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Dame Pauline Tallen.
According to Leonard, the USAID/Nigeria Safe Surgery in Family Planning and Obstetrics activity, a part of the global USAID MOMENTUM project, will reduce maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity by supporting institutions and local organisations to introduce, scale up and sustain evidence-based prevention and surgical management of obstetric fistula and female genital mutilation, mitigating the adverse effects and complications of these conditions.
She said: “This new U.S. assistance will help Nigeria’s healthcare providers identify, manage and prevent obstetric fistula, female genital mutilation, and other forms of gender-based violence in a complementary manner. Fistula is both preventable and treatable, and by working in partnership with government agencies, we can do both.”
Obstetric fistula occurs when complications during delivery result in a hole between the mother’s birth canal and either the bladder or rectum — usually exacerbated by a lack of quality medical treatment. Nigeria accounts for 40 per cent of fistula cases worldwide.
Nigeria accounts for 13,000 new cases of fistula per year, and as many as 400,000 women languish on waiting lists for corrective surgery.
The $10 million activity builds on the gains of the previous USAID funded fistula interventions in Nigeria, which conducted over 18,400 fistula surgical repairs and about 800 non-surgical repairs in 14 fistula centres in 13 states. Under the activity, partners trained more than 50 surgeons in fistula repair and 2,700 other healthcare workers in fistula prevention and treatment.
Over the next five years, USAID Implementing Partner, Engender Health will lead a coalition of local and university-based international partners and professional organisations to implement the activity in Bauchi, Ebonyi, Kebbi and Sokoto states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory.
On her own part, Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, said: “This is a call to action. All hands must be on deck. So many women are in so much pain. The need is tremendous. This robust program will reach more women who are suffering and empower survivors with hope and the joy of living again.”
Other dignitaries included the First Lady of Kebbi State, commissioners of Health from Bauchi, Kebbi, Sokoto, and Ebonyi states, as well as Nigerian actor and model, Stephanie Linus, who is also a fistula prevention advocate.