WCC executive committee recently drew attention to the largely hidden issue of obstetric fistula in its statement on Global Health and Wellbeing. The condition results mainly from an injury sustained during childbirth when women do not have access to adequate medical care, and obstructed labour cannot be addressed through caesarean section which is either unavailable or unaffordable.
How can churches in affected countries become part of the solution towards the prevention of obstetric fistula? That’s a question a WCC delegation explored as it visited member churches and the Council of Christian Churches in Madagascar.
The visit included meetings with the Madagascar Department of Health, UN officials, surgeons, and other medical personnel.
“The level of awareness of obstetric fistula varies greatly within the church communities,” said Rev. Ibrahim Wushishi Yusuf, WCC programme executive for Peacebuilding in the African Region.
The Lutheran Church has a department of health which is carrying out fistula repair operations, and other churches indicated a willingness to engage in activities to prevent obstetric fistula through awareness-raising activities including from the pulpit. “In some meetings, there was no need to explain the concern; in others the participants were open about their lack of knowledge about the condition and asked for resources to help them better understand,” explained Yusuf.
Data collected over 10 years ago estimated that 50,000 women were living with the condition, with up to 5,000 new cases occurring each year, in a country which has the capacity to carry out approximately 1,500 fistula repair surgeries each year. “The true figure of women living and dying with this condition is hard to gauge,” said Yusuf.
WCC will continue the awareness-raising activities with its partners about this issue, through advocacy at the UN in Geneva and New York to focus attention on this as a human rights concern, and through the development of resources to assist churches to better understand obstetric fistula and how they can be involved in efforts to prevent the condition and improve women's lives.