The ballroom with a seating capacity of about 800 was charged with moments of joy, when the various Ambassadors and the UN Representatives modelled on the catwalk in their African wear and moments of sadness when the stories of the four survivors of obstetric fistula (OF) and the 15-year old girl still living with it, were told. This was the situation when the diplomatic community in Ghana gathered in the evening of 25th of November, 2016, at the Movenpick Hotel for the common purpose of eliminating obstetric fistula in an innovative way. The “2016 Diplomatx Runway” was a diplomatic fashion show with a theme for ending fistula within a generation with fashion. The Runway was organised by the Colombian Embassy and UNFPA in collaboration with John Dumelo Foundation and Gorjiors International to create awareness and raise funds for OF.
In Ghana, OF was relatively a hidden problem with no accurate data until 2015 when a study conducted by Ghana Health Service with UNFPA support revealed that about 1,300 new cases occur annually. UNFPA and partners are only able to treat about 150 cases a year and this means about 1,100 women are left without care every year. The fate of affected women depend on the benevolence of other people because OF affects the most marginalized members of society: young, poor, illiterate women in remote areas and as a result of their limited access to quality maternal health and delivery services including emergency obstetric care services. And OF is compounded by indirect causes such as early marriage and early childbirth.
The Ambassador of Colombia, H.E Claudia Turbay Quintero who hosted the 2016 Diplomatx Runway, said the runway has come to stay and the proceeds on annual basis will be dedicated to the treatment of women suffering from OF. The Runway is an event that opens up opportunities for Ghana in expanding local businesses including the exportation of Ghanaian designs and fabrics, and creates open spaces for business networking. It is hoped that the Runway will eventually convert Accra into one of the most important fashion hubs in West Africa and Africa.
It was an emotional moment when a 15-year old Felicia Kuugbalpou-Nyoli was brought on stage where an appeal was made to support the treatment of her condition of leaking urine incontinently which rendered her ashamed and often isolated from her peers and community members. “Auntie, are you sure I will be cured this time and be able to go back to school? I want to be like you and be working in the office, trying to help poor people like you are doing to me now” were the only words Felicia could manage to utter when the staff tried to get her to speak.
It was a rare high quality teamwork as Ms Cynthia Sinabisi, a fistula survivor had to travel from her home region in the Upper East Region to pick up young Felicia from Upper West Region so that they could travel together since the latter was a minor. It was also an emotional moment when Florence, the UNFPA Operations Assistant in the Tamale Office had to help Felicia to wear pampers to ensure she travels safely to Accra without feeling wet and uncomfortable in the aircraft. Professor Larssey and Dr. Ganyaglo of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital were on point to provide any assistance and to also explain Felicia’s condition to partakers of the fashion show.
On the runway to showcase designs from Dennis Kingsmith Dodoo of Ghana, Consuelo Bermudez Sampe of Columbia and Vonne Couture of Nigeria were, Ambassadors from Australia, Denmark, Israel, America, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria including the UN Resident Coordinator, Christine Evans-Klock. Four OF survivors were also at the runway to tell their stories. The fifth one, little Felicia, is counting on hope against hope to have her potential in life fulfilled. This is because she is still leaking and an assessment on her shows that her condition is very complicated and needs an intense and integrated care. She hopes to tell her success story to the world by next year.