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HomeFeatureTransforming Lives in Zimbabwe: UNFPA’s Campaign to End Obstetric Fistula

Transforming Lives in Zimbabwe: UNFPA’s Campaign to End Obstetric Fistula

An African proverb reminds us that “the sun should not rise or set twice on a labouring woman.” Sadly, for many women and girls in the country, childbirth often extends far beyond the time warned by this proverb, resulting in devastating consequences.

Prolonged and obstructed labour can lead to maternal death, stillbirth, and a debilitating condition known as obstetric fistula. This severe injury causes incontinence, physical ailments, and mental health issues due to social stigma and ostracization.

For two decades, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has been at the forefront of the global Campaign to End Fistula, striving to eliminate this tragic condition by 2030 through prevention, treatment, social reintegration, and advocacy. As the world observes the International Day to End Fistula in 2023, it’s essential to understand how UNFPA’s strategies are making a difference in Zimbabwe.

Obstetric fistula is a largely preventable childbirth injury characterized by a hole between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum. It occurs due to prolonged and obstructed labour without access to timely and high-quality medical intervention.

Women and girls affected by fistula experience urinary or faecal incontinence, which leads to chronic medical problems, depression, social isolation, and deepening poverty. Shockingly, 90% of pregnancies complicated by fistula result in stillbirth.

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Despite the gravity of the issue, health systems and communities in Zimbabwe face significant challenges in combating obstetric fistula. Gender discrimination and social marginalization further heighten the risks, causing the condition to disproportionately affect impoverished, underserved, and marginalized women and girls.

On the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, it becomes crucial to prioritize efforts in reducing maternal injuries and disabilities in Zimbabwe.

Three cost-effective solutions can contribute to the prevention of fistula: timely access to high-quality emergency obstetric and newborn care, skilled professionals with midwifery expertise during childbirth, and universal availability of modern contraception.

Health systems must track the prevalence of fistula, address gaps in care, and ensure access to a competent health workforce. Additionally, national health plans should tackle gender discrimination and other factors that make women and girls vulnerable to maternal mortality and diseases.

The eradication of obstetric fistula calls for bold political leadership and increased investments. Ambitious partnerships and scaled-up funding are imperative to achieving the global target of ending fistula by 2030, as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals.

In Zimbabwe, UNFPA takes the lead in the Campaign to End Fistula, embodying a global commitment to preventing fistula and providing holistic treatment, including surgical repair, social reintegration, and rehabilitation. Despite notable progress, the goal of elimination by 2030 necessitates accelerated action, starting immediately. Thus, the theme for this year’s international day is “20 years on – progress but not enough! Act now to end fistula by 2030!”

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With UNFPA’s dedicated efforts and the collective commitment of governments, communities, and individuals in Zimbabwe, the sun will rise in a future where childbirth is safe and free from the scourge of obstetric fistula.

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Multi-award winning journalist/photojournalist with keen interests in politics, youth, child rights, women and development issues. Follow Lovejoy On Twitter @L_JayMut

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