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Rep. Carolyn Maloney: Why the U.S. Should Address Obstetric Fistula and How

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Written by Rep. Carolyn Maloney for RHRealityCheck.org - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Pregnancy shouldn’t leave a woman with a disability and ostracized from her community.  And Congress should ensure investments for the more than two million women worldwide that have obstetric fistula and that we do what we can to prevent new cases from occurring. Fistula results from prolonged labor without medical attention due to the pressure created internally from obstructed delivery, which kills tissue where a hole between the woman’s vagina and rectum develops, leaving her without control of her bladder and and/or bowels for the rest of her life without treatment.  It often results in the death of the infant.  Many women with obstetric fistula are abandoned by their husbands and families because they are considered "unclean" due to the leaking of urine and/or feces.  Left without support, the women are often forced to beg or turn to sex work to survive.

Fistula was once common throughout the world, but over the last century has been eradicated in Europe and North America through improved medical care. For example, New York’s hospital for fistula patients, now the site of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, closed in 1895 because of diminishing cases.  But still in 2010, from Bangladesh to Botswana, women continue to face these challenging deliveries and the complications associated with them, including obstetric fistulas.

I met the inspiring Catherine Hamlin and invited her to brief my colleagues about her amazing work at the Addis Abba Fistula Hospital.  I was so moved to learn from her first hand about the unnecessary suffering of women in Ethiopia and how Dr. Hamlin's life work has been devoted to their repair and treatment.  This only strengthened my resolve to address this issue - not only to treat these women but also prevent it happening to others. ... Read more