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Statement by UN Resident Coordinator Ms. Mia Seppo on the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula

The UN System in Malawi joins the Government in the commemoration of the 2015 International day to end Obstetric Fistula. This is an important day for the country as we highlight the need to restore the dignity of women affected by this unfortunate and preventable yet very common child birth injury.

Obstetric fistula is a public health and human rights issue in Malawi, causing severe disability, discrimination, abandonment and insecurity amongst women and young girls. It is primarily a result of lack access to quality maternal health care services and early pregnancies. The increasing cases of Fistula in women are clear sign of how gender inequities and inequalities, including child marriages and early pregnancies amount to a violation of multiple human rights and human security.

For a woman and more especially a young woman, obstetric fistula represents a threat to the enjoyment of the right to life, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, right to the realisation of sexual reproductive rights, livelihood and dignity of the poorest of the poor.

The UN General Assembly, in its resolution 69/148 of December 2014, called upon all stakeholders to redouble efforts to meet the internationally agreed goal of improving maternal health by making maternal health care services and obstetric fistula treatment geographically and financially accessible, as well as to develop, implement and support socio-economic reintegration and support strategies, policies and plans to eliminate obstetric fistula.

In 2014 the UN Human Rights Committee called on the Government to increase efforts to reduce maternal mortality and teenage pregnancies by providing adequate and quality sexual and reproductive health services. This was further highlighted in the ICPD beyond 2014 UN report launched on 12th February, 2014 which says"Fistula represents the failure to protect the SRH rights of women and girls and achieve equitable access to comprehensive SRH services".

Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director refers to the ICPD report in calling on all of us to pay attention to the problem of obstetric fistula when he says, "the report provides compelling evidence that SRHR are fundamental to achieving individual wellbeing".

The year 2015 therefore represents a critical turning point and a transformational moment to place the elimination of preventable maternal and new born deaths and injuries, including fistula, at the forefront of global and national priorities. In September, world leaders will finalise the new post-2015 development agenda. This would provide a perfect opportunity to ensure women and girls are strategically and centrally positioned in a post-2015 development world and that addressing fistula is a priority.

And change is possible and is happening. Treatment is possible and it is gratifying to see that Government, partners, communities and families in Malawi are working to address the underlying causes of obstetric fistula as well as providing treatment and care for the affected women and girls.

Our collective interventions should be on preventing more women from enduring this devastating injury and empower them to seek and obtain the requisite maternal health services to enable them to live lives of dignity. We reiterate our commitment to work with the government of Malawi, NGOs, CBOs and communities in their efforts to prevent and treat this condition.

We call upon all stakeholders to redouble efforts to end obstetric fistula. We particularly call on the Government and stakeholders to double efforts to address systemic obstacles that prevent women and girls in accessing quality maternal health services at health facilities. This call is in line with human rights standards to for member states to ensure health services are available, accessible, affordable and of high quality.