Uganda: Women-health Lobbyist Reinforces War on Fistula in Awareness Walk

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A Ugandan women-health lobbyist group is rallying nationals to stand up against obstetric fistula in a charity walk. Women At Work International (WAWI) says it won’t give up until women are free from the “preventable” maternal-health complication and the social stigma that comes with it.

Obstetric fistula is a medical condition in which a hole develops in the birth canal as a result of childbirth. It’s attributed to obstructed labor, poor access to medical care, malnutrition, and teenage pregnancy.

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WAWI, together with the Ministry of Health and a series of partners are mobilizing Ugandans to join the awareness walk, on May 19. ahead of U.N. declared International Fistula Day of May 23.

The group’s Executive Director Halima Namakula told this reporter that, the walk is part of her effort to implore government  “to make fistula treatment a priority by ensuring that the right equipment to carry out the operations is installed in all regional referrals and at the national referral.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are between 50,000 to 100,000 new fistula cases globally annually a number that’s too high to completely get rid of.

Uganda is ranked third globally with a high fistula epidemic. Over 140,000 women are reportedly living with the condition, with 1,900 new cases reported every year according to local media.

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Namakula says since her organization conceived the annual awareness walk six year ago, she has seen an increase in the number of fistula patients flocking several regional referrals seeking treatment. The country’s Health Demographic Survey of 2016 says 12% of women living with the condition felt embarrassed and did not seek medical treatment.

Namakula further explains that whereas sensitization is slowly being absorbed, the poor road network to connect to far-reach areas, illiteracy (“patients still think that fistula is a curse, witchcraft which makes it hard to be convinced that it’s a disease”) are still hindering the process.

These and more are the issues she will raise to a club of top officials from government, civil society and the private sector expected to take part in the highly publicized walk.

Ministry of Health’s Commissioner of Curative Services Dr. Jackson Amone says on top of  sensitization, the ministry is partnering with several Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to ensure proper reintegration of the victims back into their societies by giving them hands on training of survival skills such as tailoring, knitting, hairdressing and so many others.

It is providing them with startup capital so that they can redefine their lives and fit into their respective areas to arrest the social stigma.