On eve of Major Conference on Maternal Health, Obstetric Fistula Reaches Top of National Agenda

June 8, 2010

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Washington, D.C.—A broad coalition of organizations representing millions of Americans applauded Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE) for legislation that will help save the lives of millions of women. The Obstetric Fistula Prevention, Treatment, Hope and Dignity Restoration Act of 2010, H.R. 5441, would authorize funding to prevent obstetric fistula and treat women suffering from the debilitating condition.

“[This] bill will help ease the [devastation] of women suffering with obstetric fistula and demonstrate the United States’ commitment to the health of women and children around the world,” said Rep. Maloney.

Obstetric fistula is a hole formed between the bladder and vagina and/or the rectum and vagina. Fistula is caused by prolonged labor and pressure through the birth canal, which destroys surrounding tissue. In most fistula cases, the baby is stillborn, and the mothers are left with uncontrollable leakage of urine and feces. They are often isolated and ostracized by friends and family.

H.R. 5441 was introduced just days before the start of Women Deliver, the largest-ever conference on maternal and reproductive health, convened in Washington, DC from 7-9 of June 2010. More than 3,400 people from 140 countries are gathered at the event to promote and share programs and investments that empower girls, improve reproductive health and reduce maternal deaths and disabilities, including obstetric fistula. This bill presents an opportunity for the U.S. government to put its collective weight behind ending obstetric fistula - a problem which no woman or girl should have to face in this day and age,” said Timothy E. Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation. “Empowering women and girls is essential in the global drive to eliminate poverty, and ensuring that women and girls have the sexual and reproductive health information and services they need is central to their empowerment.

“To survive—and thrive—girls and women need a full range of quality comprehensive health services to ensure their reproductive health,” said Kelly Castagnaro, Director of Communications at the International Women’s Health Coalition. “This legislation will not only help reduce the incidence of maternal mortality and obstetric fistula, but will bring us closer to securing a just and healthy life for women everywhere.”

Each year, hundreds of thousands women die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, and thousands more experience debilitating injuries such as obstetric fistula. The average cost of fistula treatment is US $300. Yet today despite increasing awareness and efforts, there are still more than 2,000,000 women already living with fistula, most in Africa and Asia. A simple surgery can repair the injury, with success rates as high as 90 percent for experienced surgeons. “In most of the Western world, obstetric fistula was eradicated over a century ago,” said Anika Rahman, President, Americans for UNFPA. “To put things in perspective the landmark Waldorf Astoria Hotel, located in Rep. Maloney’s Manhattan district, is the site of the last known Fistula Hospital in the United States and it closed in the 1890’s. We must deliver now to bring an end to fistula globally.”

In 2002, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund and EngenderHealth pioneered an assessment in nine African countries to determine the need for and availability of fistula treatment and prevention services. Soon after, UNFPA, and partners launched the Global Campaign to End Fistula with the goal of making obstetric fistula as rare in developing countries as it is in the developed world.

Today the Global Campaign to End Fistula, led by UNFPA, works with hundreds of partners in 47 countries. One partner is the Fistula Care Project, led by EngenderHealth and funded by USAID, which works to prevent and treat fistula in 11 countries.

“This legislation could not have come at a better time, said Rev. Jill Wiley, from the General Board of Church & Society of The United Methodist Church. “During the past year, United Methodists have been educated and energized about the cause of ending obstetric fistula through a global health initiative called Operation Healing Hope. H.R. 5441 provides a means by which faith-based advocates can now translate their concern for fistula victims into long-term action that will help prevent and treat fistula.” “We are thrilled to see that the bill recognizes the importance of partnering with national governments and institutions and strengthening local capacity as the way forward,” said Ana Langer, M.D., President, EngenderHealth. “We know this is the most sustainable approach to preventing and treating obstetric fistula. This captures the spirit and intent of the Administration’s Global Health Initiative.”

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For full legislation visit: http://maloney.house.gov/documents/women/052510Fistulapreventionbill_FINAL.pdf

To contact Members of Congress aboutthis bill: visit http://www.americansforunfpa.org/takeaction

RELEASED BY: Americans for UNFPA

Americans for UNFPA – Contact:Zahra Aziz – 646-649-9107

AMREF UK – Contact: Victoria Rugg – 44 0207 269 6867

The Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) – Contact: Serra Sippel – (202) 393-5930

EngenderHealth – Contact: Theresa Kim–212-993-9834

General Board of Church & Society of The United Methodist Church – Contact: Jill Wiley - 508-427-0081

International Women’s Health Coalition – Contact: Kelly Castagnaro – 646 707 1004

National Council of Jewish Women – Contact:   Emily Alfano – 202-296-2588 x5

Population Action International  –  Contact: Michael Khoo – 202-557-3400

United Nations Foundation – Contact: Yolanda Johnny Taylor – 202-778-1630