By: Olagoke Olatoye, NAN
The United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, observes that although Vesico-Vaginal Fistula, VVF, is a preventable birth injury, it has affected more than 800,000 women in Nigeria with several new cases every year.
According to the fund, VVF occurs as a result of the tear between the birth canal and the rectum or bladder, leaving a woman incontinent of urine or faeces or both.
Recalling her experience, a secondary school girl said she dropped out of school at the age of 15 years to become a housewife due to health situation arising from VVF.
“I was in labour for 24 hours before I was taken to a general hospital. Unfortunately, the hospital was on strike and there was no one to attend to me.
“After a day in the hospital, a nurse decided to assist me, but sadly, I have a stillbirth and when I realised I was incontinent of urine, I felt terrible and was confused.
“I was later referred to a specialist hospital where I was treated with support from UNFPA but then, my dream of becoming a medical doctor had been shattered by early marriage,” the teenager said.
In the light of this, medical experts note that the health of the teen can be compromised by early marriage which may result in VVF.
They warn that other health consequences of early marriage among adolescents apart from VVF may include early child bearing, prolonged or obstructed labour, social exclusion and increased risk of sexually transmitted infections.
They observe that in most cases, victims of VVF are from the poor and illiterate young mothers who live in rural areas with low access to quality maternal healthcare.
They express concern that although some cases of VVF are operated successfully, unlucky victims may have to live with the condition for the rest of their lives.
According to them, if untreated, VVF often leads to social isolation, frequent infections, kidney disease, painful sores and infertility.
Linking VVF prevalence to the rate of Maternal Mortality Ratio, MMR, in Nigeria, Isaac Adewole, the Minister of Health, said Nigeria had the highest MMR.
Maternal mortality is the death of a woman in pregnancy or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy.
But UNFPA assures the public that it will continue to work with governments and other stakeholders to end VVF and reduce the rate of MMR.
Apart from this, UNFPA says it has appointed a renowned Nollywood actress, Stephanie Linus-Okereke, as the Regional Ambassador for Maternal Health in West and Central Africa to collaborate with Fistula Foundation Nigeria in Kaduna, Kebbi, Sokoto and Ebonyi states.
Ms. Linus-Okereke said the partnership would boost education and information on sexual and reproductive health to prevent teenage pregnancy and promote girls’ rights.
“I will work closely with the fund to draw attention to the work that still needs to be done across the region and to increase universal access to comprehensive sexual reproductive health services and information.
“This is to stop women from dying in the course of bringing forth life; to empower women and girls to choose freely and for themselves,” Ms. Linus-Okereke said.
The ambassador restated that she had been advocating unhindered women and girls’ right to education and access to reproductive healthcare, information and family planning.
Justifying her appointment, Eugene Kongnyuy, UNFPA’s Deputy Resident Representative, the West and Central Region, said 111 women died every day in the region due to pregnancy-related complications.
“In scale and in severity, maternal mortality is the most neglected tragedy of our time; a tragedy that disproportionately affects developing countries, especially in Africa,” Mr. Kongnyuy said.
Mr. Kongnyuy noted that the costs of not taking action on maternal health would mean that poverty eradication efforts would be undermined.
“We need high profile public advocates for maternal health and the rights of young people to reach their full potential in Africa,” he said.
He also noted that more than 55 per cent of pregnant women still gave birth without any assistance from a skilled health worker.
However, observers note that as part of the efforts by the federal government to curtail the situation, Mr. Adewole had, on July 25, inaugurated a task force on accelerated reduction of maternal mortality.
Inaugurating the task force in Abuja, he said the high MMR was unacceptable and had become imperative to address the challenge as soon as possible.
“It is noteworthy that a woman is a primary caregiver, nation builder and contributes significantly to the economic and social development of our great country.
“Safe motherhood, therefore, is critical to national development and no woman should die while giving life,” Mr. Adewole said.
By and large, concerned citizens solicit pragmatic approach to some teenage reproductive health issues and the engagement communities and women in the formulation of policies that affect their health.
They, nonetheless, call for the implementation of the National Health Act, 2014, which makes provision for mothers, newborns and under-five year old children to have unhindered access to relevant health services.