The first lady of the Puntland State of Somalia, Dr. Hodan Said Isse on August 11 2016, hosted a social awareness and fundraising event at the Puntland State University in support of the fistula repair campaign slated for August 20 to August 25, 2016 at Garowe General Hospital. The campaign was carried out by an international medical humanitarian organisation, Physicians Across Continents (PAC), and supported by the Ministry of Health in Puntland in collaboration with UNFPA Somalia.
Obstetric fistula is one of the most serious and tragic childbirth injuries. It is a hole between the birth canal and bladder or rectum caused by prolonged, obstructed labour, without access to timely, high-quality medical treatment. It leaves women leaking urine, faeces or both, and often leads to chronic medical problems, depression, social isolation and deepening poverty.
UNFPA Reproductive and Maternal Health Programme Specialist in Puntland Jihan Salad said Somalia, in particular Puntland, is faced with a high prevalence of fistula cases, especially among women in the nomadic communities and in rural areas. “Unfortunately, access to health care services is limited and not many health care staff have sufficient capacity to tackle the fistula problem,” said Salad.
She explained that the fistula repair campaign was aimed at providing free reconstructive surgery to 100 women in Puntland. “After a three-week intensive social mobilisation and mass media campaign across Puntland, over 120 women and girls suffering from obstetric fistula have been identified and registered for the camp,” said Salad.
Many people including government representatives, women groups, activists, students, artists, the private sector and Somalis from the diaspora attended the fundraising event. “The purpose of the event was to create awareness and collect funds and in-kind contributions in support of the women suffering from obstetric fistula in Puntland,” said Salad.
The first lady Dr. Hodan Said Isse commended the fistula repair campaign initiative and emphasised the importance of stepping up the fight against obstetric fistula in Puntland by focusing on the prevention of obstetric fistula, expanding the availability of maternal health services, and tackling the stigma associated with the condition. “We should all be committed to the dismantling of the stigma associated with fistula by addressing gaps in knowledge and increasing social awareness within the community,” said Dr. Said Isse.
The first lady also called on government representatives, international community, the private sector, women groups and the youth to commit more time and resources in support of initiatives that advance the health status of women and girls in Puntland.“While we create awareness on the horrifying and dehumanising condition called obstetric fistula, let’s also not forget to continue to raise our voices against the harmful tradition of female genital mutilation,” said Dr. Said Isse, who is also Goodwill Ambassador against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
The Minister of Health for Puntland Dr. Abdinasir Osman Cuuke explained that obstetric fistula affects between 50,000 and 100,000 women worldwide every year. He stated that the social mobilisation campaign has proven that the burden of obstetric fistula is high in Puntland. “The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the Physicians Across Continents (PAC), will ensure that the brave fistula survivors will receive the best quality health care, psychosocial counseling and rehabilitation services available”, said Dr. Cuuke. The Minister of Health also stated that any support or contributions to the fistula repair campaign and its beneficiaries was welcome.
The Minister of Justice, Religious Affairs and Rehabilitation, Salah Habib Jama highlighted the importance of sadaqa - voluntary charity - and lending a helping hand. “Sadaqa is a virtuous deed and highly encouraged in Islam. It is our duty as citizens of Puntland to bring a positive impact on the lives of the girls and women affected by fistula,” said the minister. He also called on religious groups to contribute to the social and resource mobilisation drive in support of girls and women suffering from obstetric fistula. The Minister of Justice also expressed his appreciation towards the Ministry of Health and UNFPA for embarking on an intensified social mobilisation campaign and identifying and registering cases from remote areas across Puntland.
The social and resource mobilisation campaign was planned to be undertaken until the end of the fistula repair campaign.