Pakistan National Women’s Health Forum Highlights Efforts to End Obstetric Fistula
I had the honor of speaking at The Pakistani National Forum on Women’s Health (PNFWH), held during the week of March 4th, 2011 in Karachi. The event featured renowned experts in reconstructive pelvic surgery, fistula treatment and women’s health from the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia and North America.
Based in Pakistan, PNFWH’s mission is to improve the quality of life for women regardless of race, creed or economic status. Its holistic approach targets particularly those who would typically fall outside the reach of the benevolent hands of healthcare efforts – women who live along the rural areas and urban slum. The slogan of PNFWH is “Neglect No More, Dignity Restored.”
A fistula is an abnormal hole between the vagina and the urinary tract or the vagina and the rectum. Fistula most often results from prolonged labor, where the woman cannot deliver the baby, often pushing for days and days before arriving for medical care. Once the baby is delivered, usually a dead baby, the delicate vaginal tissues that sustained all the pressure of days of pushing manifest the damage, resulting in fistula channels that allow the uncontrollable, constant passage of urine or feces through the vagina.
In many developing nations throughout Africa and Asia, where obstetric care is minimal or absent, obstetric fistulas are common and may be quite large. Obstructed labors not only cause fistulas, it is not uncommon for a baby to be born dead under these circumstances, and for pelvic nerve damage to result in permanent foot-drop, making even the simple act of walking forever difficult for these women.
PNFWH joins with other civil service agencies, including United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to stand up for women’s rights and their health, empowering them to achieve their full potential in today’s society. In 2006, it’s Fistula Project aimed to do this by improving maternal health, decreasing maternal morbidity and disability, and rehabilitating women who suffer from the ‘aftershock’ effects of pregnancy and childbirth.
What does PNFWH look like in action? The UNFPA-funded Fistula Project established seven regional and five referral Fistula Repair Centers that service women from all Pakistani provinces. The free services include training of midwives, making quality surgery accessible to all patients by arranging reach-out camps and providing necessary transportation. Under these efforts, more than 2,111 fistulas were repaired with an impressive 93% success rate, restoring dignity to these patents PNFWH promotes awareness and prevention of fistulas by advocating better childbirth practices across the globe.
To join the effort to end childbirth fistulas, or to learn more about PNFWH and UNFPA, visit