Sometimes, a relatively simple surgical procedure can make a world of difference to women who suffer from a seemingly insurmountable health problem that too often ruins their chances of living normal, productive lives. Such is the case of women who live with an obstetric fistula.
About two million women, most of them living in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, suffer with this devastating internal injury caused by a difficult, prolonged childbirth. The condition, which can be prevented through proper medical care during childbirth, is a clear indication that health systems are failing women. That’s because although it is both treatable and preventable, this condition continues to plague the poorest women around the world.
Its effect on women is devastating. Those who are afflicted with a fistula are frequently ostracized by their communities, and even their families. Indeed, too often, they are neglected or even deserted by their husbands.
In Bangladesh, some 71 thousand women suffer from obstetric fistula, and each year, another 2,000 or so new cases occur. Thirteen medical centers in the country perform the surgical operation that rectifies the problem, but their turnover is woefully inadequate—each medical center is able to surgically correct only about 1000 cases each year.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, has partnered with the U.S. Department of Defense to help eliminate this problem in Bangladesh. Last November, the two agencies ran a program that helped increase the number of Bangladeshi medical personnel capable of treating women who suffer from this condition. A group of Bangladeshi medical student took an intensive course in fistula repair and prevention, which was presented by medical personnel from the U.S. Army Pacific Command’s Regional Health Command-Pacific, surgeons from Tripler Army Medical Center and USAID health officers.
“This effort helps advance U.S. Pacific Command and Regional Health Command-Pacific’s mission to prevent disease and improve the health of systems and individuals across the Asia-Pacific,” said Brigadier General Betram Providence, commanding general of Regional Health Command-Pacific. “Together we can help Bangladeshis have access to basic or specialized medical care.”
Together, we can give thousands of Bangladeshi women a new lease on life.