YESTERDAY marked the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula. Affecting mothers in large parts of the developing world, the medical condition is yet another byproduct of poverty and the marginalisation and lesser status of women in society. The consequences of the condition are not just physical, but also psychological, with many women facing social isolation and depression as a result. Often, women are unable or afraid of giving birth again after they have been afflicted with the condition. A lack of access to quality healthcare, safe maternal and prenatal services; an insufficient diet and malnutrition; and early marriages and childbirth all result in many women in Pakistan suffering from the condition, particularly in the rural parts of the country, where state-run hospitals are few and far in between and the option for C-sections out of the question. Many women end up giving birth inside their homes, without medical assistance or the presence of skilled health personnel. And yet, such topics are rarely spoken about, despite the risk of complications being relatively high. Women’s health issues continue to be stigmatised and silenced, advertently or inadvertently, due to a culture of shame surrounding their bodies and bodily functions, or a lack of understanding or outright dismissal of their suffering. It is depressing that in this day and age, giving birth is still one of the most dangerous experiences women from underprivileged backgrounds face.
In addition, Pakistan continues to have one of the highest maternal mortality rates in South Asia. Out of every 100,000 live births, 178 result in death. These ground realities only further underscore the importance of Lady Health Workers in providing basic healthcare and assistance to millions of women in the country. There is still a need for greater awareness regarding women’s health, which is very much a human rights issue.
Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2019