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Distinguished Chairperson, 

Honourable Regional Minister, 

Hon MCE of Bawku Municipality,

Our Illustrious Regional and District Directors of Ghana Health Services,

Our committed Fistula Surgeons

Reliable National Fistula Taskforce Members,

Our notable Traditional Authorities here present,

Distinguished Invited Guests,

Friends from the Media, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I bring you warm greetings from Accra as well as from the Executive Director of UNFPA Babatunde Osotimehin. This is the 4th in the series of commemorations of the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula to reflect on progress made, raise awareness, and generate increased policy and community actions for ending fistula. The first one was a media activity which focused on a fistula client: Fati Yahaya from Tamale who shared her story on a national television for reflection. The second one was a community durbar hosted by the Kpandai District in the Northern Region and this was followed by another community durbar last year in Wa West District, in the  Upper West Region and today we are here in Bawku in the Upper East Region for the remembrance of the day. 

Distinguished Chairperson,

Obstetric fistula is one of the most serious injuries of childbearing – a hole in the birth canal caused by prolonged, obstructed labour in the absence of timely and adequate medical care. It is almost exclusively a condition of the poor, most vulnerable and most marginalized women and girls. It affects those who lack access to the timely, high-quality, and life-saving maternal health care that they so desperately need and deserve, and that is their basic human right. In Ghana, Obstetric Fistula is a relatively hidden problem, largely because it affects the most marginalized members of society: young, poor, illiterate women in remote areas, who in most cases have no knowledge of the condition and/or opportunity to seek medical treatment. 

Fistula is almost entirely preventable, yet a study conducted in 2015 (last year), under the supervision of the Ghana Health Service and the National Fistula Task-team, estimated that there are between 711 and 1352 new cases of fistula that develop in the country each year. Most of these unfortunate women and girls are excluded from daily community life and often isolated socially and emotionally, making it difficult to maintain a source of income or support, thus deepening their poverty and magnifying their suffering.

Hon Minister,

The theme for this year’s International Day to End Obstetric Fistula is “End fistula within a generation” that is within 30 years. Indeed, we can end fistula in Ghana. It is a call to us for speedy action and a call to transform the world. As we talk about ending polio, ending child marriage, ending female genital mutilation and so many other forms of suffering, so must we commit to stepping up our efforts to end fistula, once and for all. Ending this scourge means heeding the call of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to leave no one behind, especially those most neglected, invisible, voiceless and powerless, including the women and girls living with fistula. Now is the time, and I am confident we can do it. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

At age 21, Stella Akoriba from Paga in this Region was looking forward in 2007 to a fulfilling life-time relationship with her newly married husband. Soon after marriage, she delivered her first daughter. Then came the second pregnancy and by 2013 she was divorced because she suffered from Obstetric Fistula. It was a life full of misery for Stella as she used diapers for months and although people could not see her leaking urine, they could smell it on her. She had sleepless nights with aching heart until August 2013 when she had her fistula repaired at the Tamale Teaching Hospital. Stella went home happy but without a husband. The sight of her loved husband married to another woman gave her another hurtful agony until she opened up publicly and spoke about her ordeal in 2015 in the booklet and documentary entitled Living with Fistula: the Untold Stories which was disseminated in Accra. Coming out with her story was the final stroke of her liberation. Now, Stella has been fully restored physically, emotionally, psychologically, and economically. We in UNFPA believe that no restoration is complete without economic empowerment, so we support unfortunate women like Stella to undergo skills training as entrepreneurs under our fistula programme. Presently, Stella is economically independent with her enterprise in batik making and tailoring.

Hon Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The persistence of fistula is a result of denied human rights.    In other words failure to address obstetric fistula is a human rights failure and the woman or girl affected is doubly victimized in the circumstances of the cause and in the consequences of its aftermath. 

Permit me here to ask all of us here a simple question. How long shall we wait to see our sisters, mothers, aunts go through such an ordeal when we can prevent it from happening? 

Please join me to pledge here and now, that - Not a day longer!! The action is now, and we know how.  

To end fistula, we must ensure access by all to quality sexual and reproductive health services; prevent child marriage and early childbearing; promote education and broader human rights; and foster community participation in finding solutions, including through the active involvement of men as well as seeking the help of fistula survivors as advocates.

Let us decide, as a nation, that the country we want is one where fistula no longer exists.

Let us, once and for all, put an end to this assault on women’s and girls’ health and human rights, which steals from them their very dignity and destroys the most fundamental of human qualities: hope.

Let us all work together to wipe fistula off the map.

 Much of the world has already virtually eliminated fistula. It is time to finish the job.

We cannot give up until every woman and girl has the preventive care she needs in Ghana.

We cannot give up until every single woman and girl living with fistula has been treated.

We cannot give up until every fistula survivor receives the social reintegration and support services she needs to rebuild her life, reclaim her dignity, and restore her hope and dreams for the future.

I thank you for your kind attention.