Eliminating Obstetric Fistula in West and Central Africa by 2030: Côte d’Ivoire, UNFPA and South Korea call for increased investment and South-South and triangular cooperation

Abidjan – The Government of Côte d’Ivoire, in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Government of South Korea through its International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), is organizing from September 13 to 15, 2022 in Abidjan an international conference on the theme: “South-South and triangular partnership to eliminate fistula by 2030”. Chaired by Her Excellency Mrs. Dominique Ouattara, First Lady of Côte d’Ivoire, this event aims to strengthen the mobilization of domestic resources and partners to eliminate obstetric fistula in West and Central Africa by 2030.

Obstetric fistula is one of the most serious and dangerous injuries that can occur during childbirth. It is a perforation between the vagina and the bladder and/or rectum, caused by prolonged labor, and occurs in the absence of prompt and quality obstetric care. An estimated 600,000 to 1,000,000 women and girls are living with obstetric fistula in West and Central Africa. In Côte d’Ivoire, a survey conducted in 2020 estimated the number of women and girls living with fistula at 44,602 with 250 new cases recorded each year.

The conference will be attended by government representatives from ECOWAS countries, Mauritania and Chad, bilateral and multilateral donors, UN agencies, scientific experts, the private sector, and civil society. The first phase of this event features the “High Level Dialogue” which will lead to the launch of the Abidjan Declaration for the Elimination of Obstetric Fistula in West and Central Africa by 2030.

For Her Excellency Dominique Ouattara, First Lady of Côte d’Ivoire, “it is time to take action and operationalize initiatives to mobilize resources for investment in prevention, repair and reintegration of fistula survivors.”

The second phase of the conference is a symposium that will take stock of obstetric fistula in Africa, training, and strategies to strengthen efforts to eliminate obstetric fistula. Pierre Dimba, Minister of Health, Public Hygiene and Universal Health Coverage of Côte d’Ivoire said: “Maternal and child health is a priority of the President of the Republic, His Excellency Alassane Ouattara. Today, women living with obstetric fistula no longer have to hide because this disease is treated free of charge at the hospital. “Moreover, the international surgical mission that allowed the operation of nearly 180 women is a strong signal that South-South and triangular cooperation is a reality in our countries,” he added.

For her part, the Minister of Women, Family and Children of Côte d’Ivoire Nasseneba Touré, welcomed the synergies of action for the restoration of the dignity of women living with obstetric fistula. “Côte d’Ivoire has strengthened its achievements in the promotion of women and gender equality. The issue of obstetric fistula, in addition to being a public health problem, is also a question of human rights in general and women’s rights in particular. Our joint efforts will accelerate interventions to eliminate obstetric fistula by 2030,” she said.

Since 2012, South Korea has invested USD 16,070,000 in the fight against obstetric fistula in Côte d’Ivoire through KOICA in a tripartite project with the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene and UNFPA. Lee Sang Ryul, South Korea’s Ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire said, “Korea is proud to accompany Côte d’Ivoire in the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of women living with obstetric fistula. Helping these women heal, regain their dignity and support the strengthening of the health system are strong commitments of our cooperation with Côte d’Ivoire.”

As part of this initiative, UNFPA has initiated the creation of a donor coalition to join efforts, drive change and encourage investment to eliminate obstetric fistula and its root causes. Argentina Matavel, UNFPA Regional Director for West and Central Africa said, “Prevention is the best way to eliminate fistula. Ensuring skilled attendance at delivery, providing emergency obstetric care to women and girls who experience complications at delivery, and strengthening domestic and external resource mobilization would make fistula as rare in developing countries as it is today in developed countries.

The conference was preceded by an international surgical mission from August 20 to September 10, 2022. This mission saw the participation of experts from Benin, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, and Chad worked together with those from Côte d’Ivoire to operate on nearly 180 complex cases of obstetric fistula at the Mother and Child Hospital in Bingerville, the University Hospital of Bouaké, the Regional Hospital of Séguéla, the General Hospital of Bouna, and the St. Jean Baptiste Hospital in Bodo.

The Abidjan Declaration will serve as the basis for future actions on eliminating obstetric fistula in West and Central Africa. This Declaration is a preparatory step for commitments under the Call to Action of the governments of Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia and Togo, which will be presented on September 23, 2022 in New York on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Source: United Nations Population Fund

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