During my recent visit to Mauritania, I had the opportunity to visit fistula patients at a hospital in Nouakchott. I was moved and impressed by their courage and resilience. It pains me deeply that this preventable and treatable condition still exists in our world, mainly affecting the poorest and most marginalized women and girls, causing them even greater suffering and isolation.
The persistence of fistula in some countries and regions is an indicator of very poor access to quality maternal health services. To end it, we must strengthen health systems and address broader development and human rights issues affecting women and girls: poverty, gender inequality, early marriage, early childbearing, and lack of education.
All these aims are part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed unanimously by world leaders in September 2015. Goal 1 on ending poverty, Goal 3 on healthy lives, Goal 5 on gender equality and Goal 10 on reducing inequality should make an enormous contribution to preventing and ending fistula.
We have seen great progress on maternal and newborn health in recent years, and more than 70,000 women and girls have had their fistulas repaired since UNFPA and its partners launched the global Campaign to End Fistula in 2003. But two million women and girls around the world continue to live with fistula, and there are between 50,000 and 100,000 new cases every year. At present rates, most will die without ever receiving treatment – a heartbreaking and unacceptable situation.
Fistula has virtually been eliminated in most high and middle income countries around the world, so we know that it can be eliminated in every country.
Today, on the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, I call for an end to fistula within a generation. Let us use the momentum of the Sustainable Development Goals together with strong political leadership, accelerated investment and action, and passionate and committed champions, to achieve this historic and transformative goal.