Time to end obstetric fistula: a song for survivors

23 May 2018


Today, the world observes the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, May 23. which calls for action to end the marginalization and inequality that perpetuate this preventable injury.

Obstetric fistula is one of the most serious and tragic injuries that can occur during childbirth. It is a hole between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum caused by prolonged, obstructed labour without treatment.

The condition "is silently robbing millions of women and girls of their health, hope and dignity," said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem in her statement marking the occasion.

Yet the condition is almost entirely preventable. Its persistence is a sign of global inequality and an indication that health systems are failing to protect the health and human rights of the poorest and most vulnerable women and girls. Those without access to modern maternal health services are more likely to suffer from obstetric fistula, for example. And girls who are subjected to child marriage and adolescent pregnancy are also more vulnerable, since the condition is more likely to afflict those who become pregnant while still physically immature.

More than 2 million women in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Arab region, and Latin America and the Caribbean are estimated  to be living with fistula, and some 50,000 to 100,000 new cases develop annually. Yet the condition is almost entirely preventable with access to emergency obstetric care – in particular, Caesarean section.

In war-torn Yemen, a devastating childbirth injury, then a glimpse of hope

A medical team at Al Thawara Hospital where 28 fistula surgeries were successfully treated. © UNFPA Yemen


UNFPA works around the world to help expand access to sexual and reproductive health care, including emergency obstetric care. UNFPA also supports surgical repairs for fistula survivors, and helps reintegrate survivors back into the community.


In Yemen, UNFPA has supported the establishment of two fistula units, including one at Al Thawara Hospital in Sana’a, where 28 fistula surgeries were successfully treated, free of charge, in recent months.


And in the south, 90 percent of fistula surgeries were undertaken with support from UNFPA. UNFPA has also created and strengthened a network of community volunteers, midwives, reproductive health workers and fistula experts from most of the governorates to help fistula survivors receive the services they need.