Magazine article UN Chronicle

Obstetric Fistula: Natalie Imbruglia Sheds Light on Devastating Condition

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Obstetric Fistula: Natalie Imbruglia Sheds Light on Devastating Condition

Article excerpt

Obstetric fistula may not be a familiar term to many, but Australian singer/actress Natalie Imbruglia is hoping to change that. A spokesperson for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)-led Campaign to End Fistula, she used a recent visit to Nigeria to focus public attention on the little known childbearing injury that affects more than 2 million women in developing countries. She first heard about obstetric fistula from Richard Branson, Chief Executive Officer of the Virgin Group of companies. In January 2005, she visited fistula hospitals in Nigeria and Ethiopia with representatives from UNFPA and Virgin Unite, the charitable arm of the Virgin Group and a partner in the Campaign. Deeply moved by what she saw, she felt compelled to act. "It just struck a chord with me. It was so devastating to me that all these women are suffering from a condition that is preventable. I didn't think it should be happening in this day and age."

In August, Ms. Imbruglia returned to Nigeria to meet with patients, surgeons, government officials and religious leaders, accompanied this time by a group of journalists, photographers and filmmakers from the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. The goal was to absorb as much as she could from those closest to the issue so that she could be a better advocate back home. Why another visit? "You have to have a starting point. With more than 400,000 cases of fistula in Nigeria alone, this seemed a good place to begin", she said. Fistula is most common in poor communities of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where access to obstetric care is limited. Studies show that Nigeria may have one of the highest fistula prevalence rates in Africa; an estimated 400,000 to 800,000 Nigerian women are living with the condition, with 20,000 new cases each year. The problem is particularly severe in the country's northern states.

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Ms. Imbruglia's August agenda included a return visit to Kwalli Rehabilitation Centre, a facility that supports women during the critical two weeks of post-operative care and teaches them basic skills, such as literacy, knitting and sewing. It aims to arm women with the tools they will need to be self-sufficient after returning to their communities. When she first visited the centre in January, she was told of an urgent need for a new van to transport patients to and from their villages and the nearby Murtala Muhammad Specialist Hospital. The facility's van was on its last leg. Ms. Imbruglia raised funds to purchase a new van--a "small token of support" that will no doubt make a difference in the Centre's day-to-day operations. With a group of patients at Kwalli, they gave the vehicle their own personal touch: painted handprints. "I wanted the girls to feel like this was really their van", she said. "I saw this as a way for us to do something together that was spontaneous and fun."

While in Katsina, Ms. Imbruglia visited a UNFPA-supported maternity clinic that provides free pre-natal care and Caesarean section-key interventions to prevent fistula. "There are certain places like this where you can see change happening", she stated, adding that "loads of women" were taking advantage of these services. Later that day, she accompanied a group of Red Cross volunteers on a community outreach visit to a nearby village, where she met a treated fistula patient who had successfully reintegrated into her community. …

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