6 ways a fistula repair contributes to a fairer world

The UN’s sustainable development goals provide a vision for a better future for all. Here’s how our work fits in.

Imagine you’re a young woman who’s gone through days of labour, delivered a stillborn child, then found you’re leaking urine or faeces uncontrollably through a hole in your vagina.

Every obstetric fistula is a personal tragedy like this one. And repairing the hole is only one part of mending the problem.

Dr Catherine Hamlin’s dream is to eradicate fistula. Forever. To achieve it, we need to tackle the inequalities that let such a preventable injury happen. That’s where the UN’s vision for sustainable development comes in.

What are the sustainable development goals?

The sustainable development goals are produced by the UN and they influence the work of charities worldwide.

They aren’t guidelines or rules, but a vision for a better future. There are 17 goals in all, ranging from protecting the seas to eradicating poverty.

Our work strives to meet six goals in particular:

Goal #3: Good health and wellbeing

Obstetric fistula is a life-altering injury that only happens in poor, rural regions. Women who experience it leak urine, faeces or both, and suffer both physical and emotional pain.

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia provides surgery for these women, as well as counselling and physiotherapy, free of charge. Last year alone, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia treated 1,700 women, most of whom were able to return home with new dignity.

However, this is only one part of Dr Catherine Hamlin’s dream.

When Dr Hamlin met her first fistula patient nearly 60 years ago, she realised that in a world with fairer access to maternal health care, this 17-year-old girl might have instead been nursing a baby.

That’s why donations now help fund:

*Five regional fistula and birthing hospitals in outlying districts
*Training for surgeons from around the world at the main Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital
*125 new rural midwives trained at the Hamlin College of Midwives since 2007
*48 rural midwifery clinics, that have delivered over 40,000 babies
*Countless new fistula cases prevented

Goal #10: Reduced inequalities

Access to sexual and reproductive health care is acknowledged as a universal human right. But in Ethiopia, it’s still largely determined by where a woman lives.

More than 70% of births in Ethiopia take place without a trained midwife or doctor. And this is even more likely in a rural area, according to the UNFPA’s State of the World Population 2017 report.

A girl born in a rural area is also much more likely to marry young, have complications from teenage pregnancies, and be unable to attend antenatal appointments.

Hamlin midwives are specifically recruited to work in remote areas. Meanwhile, the five regional Hamlin hospitals bring outstanding clinical care nearer to these women.

Goal #8: Decent work and economic growth

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia employs around 550 local people including surgeons, nurses and administrative staff. Today, many of the hospital’s longest serving and most skilled staff are former patients.

We also have a progressive rehabilitation and reintegration program to provide longer-term patients with income-generating skills, experience and opportunities. Armed with restored health and support, these women can go on to live independently with dignity and choices. Forty former patients now own their own business having been through this program.

Goal #4: Quality education

The Hamlin Model of Care recognises that fistula patients experience not just physical scars, but emotional trauma, too. Patients learn literacy and numeracy, as part of rebuilding their self-worth.

Goal #5: Gender equality

In 2002, the rehabilitation centre at Desta Mender also opened. Here, women with more complex injuries also receive an individual skills training program. It could include farming skills, business skills or child care qualifications – all of which give women greater employment opportunities and independence, and contribute to economic growth overall.

Goal #1: No poverty

An untreated fistula destroys a woman’s life. Already poor, she may find herself abandoned by her husband, and unable to work. It’s a downward spiral of disadvantage.

Now rewind a bit, and imagine that the woman gave birth with a trained midwife. Her fistula never happens, so she isn’t a burden on her family. Her babies are healthier, giving them a better chance of upward mobility. With support from a midwife she may even choose to have fewer babies or more time between babies, allowing her to work or start a microbusiness. The whole community flourishes.

In fact, one World Bank study identifies universal health care (that is, health care that can be accessed without unreasonable financial burden) as the most promising and fair way to reduce health inequalities, and narrow income gaps.

So while the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation will always be about eradicating fistula, we’re also excited about the bigger picture. And it’s being made possible by people like you.

Every woman deserves to deliver her baby safely and without harm. No one should suffer a fistula. Please consider donating today to empower more women.

Author: Jacqui Hawkins – Health Writer and Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation volunteer.

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