KARACHI: The medical fraternity will be joined by women rights activists and artists on Friday to observe the first-ever International Day to End Obstetric Fistula in Karachi like elsewhere in the world.

A variety of events will be held to raise public awareness of the highly neglected health issue, according to health experts and community leaders.

Addressing a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Thursday, officials of the Pakistan National Forum on Women’s Health (PNFWH), the Pakistan Medical Association, the Society of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians Pakistan (SOGP) and Tehrik-i-Niswan declared that they would launch an awareness campaign of the medical condition until they succeeded in getting the entire society aware of how easily fistula that devastated lives of millions of women for no reason could be treated.

They said one of the most serious injuries of childbirth; obstetric fistula was a hole in the birth canal caused by prolonged, obstructed labour due to the lack of timely and adequate medical care.

In most cases, they said, the baby was either stillborn or died within the first week of life, and the woman suffered a devastating injury — a fistula — that rendered her incontinent.

“Many women and girls with fistula are shunned by their families and communities, deepening their poverty and magnifying their suffering,” said Dr Mirza Ali Azhar, PMA secretary-general.

Dr Sajjad Ahmed Siddiqui of the PNFWH said it was unacceptable that the poorest, most vulnerable women and girls suffered needlessly from the devastating condition.

“These vulnerable women and girls are at the heart of UNFPA efforts to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every child birth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.”

PMA Karachi’s Dr Qazi Wasiq said victims of obstetric fistula were usually among the hardest to reach, and often illiterate and with limited access to health services, including maternal and reproductive health care.

The experts said the persistence of the problem reflected broader health inequities and health care system weaknesses, as well as wider challenges facing women and girls, such as gender and socio-economic inequality, lack of schooling, child marriage and early child bearing — all of which impeded the well-being of women and girls and their opportunities.

“Obstetric fistula has been virtually eliminated in industrialised nations, as it is preventable and, in most cases, can be surgically repaired. However, an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 new cases surfaced each year in Pakistan,” said Dr Siddiqui.

Over the last seven years, he added, the UNFPA had directly supported more than 3,400 women and girls to receive surgical treatment for fistula in the country through their seven regional centres. The campaign was based on the three key strategies of prevention, treatment and social reintegration of the patients.

He said his organisation was implementing that project across the country by providing surgical treatment, training for doctors and mid-level healthcare providers and raising awareness of the social issues related to obstetric fistula.

Dr Azhar said in Pakistan recently very high number of iatrogenic fistula had been reported. He expressed concern over such a serious issue and demanded health authorities to use their resources to stop such practices specially the premier health sector regulators had to redesign their policies for registration and trainings.

Sheema Kirmani, popular classical dancer belonged to non-governmental organisation Tehrik-i-Niswan, which highlights women’s issues through performing arts, said her group would strive for increasing awareness of the gravity of the issue.

Last year, the General Assembly of the United Nations designated May 23 as International Day to End Obstetric Fistula.

Events on that day will include a special observance at the United Nations in New York, with the participation of fistula survivors, advocates and practitioners who have dedicated their careers to putting an end to this devastating condition.

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2014

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