Mr Babatunde Ahonsi, Country Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), on Tuesday indicated that over 50,000 new cases of Obstetric Fistula which affects women globally, were recorded every year.
Obstetric Fistula is a disease which attacks women, and comes about as a result of a hole in the birth canal that is formed due to prolonged obstructed labour.
Speaking during a sensitization workshop for traditional and religious leaders and women development-oriented NGOs in Accra, Mr Ahonsi said the disease had gained grounds, because of the inability of women in labour to get timely and quality medical intervention.
The workshop which was organized by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and sponsored by the UNFPA, was to educate the participants on the negative effects of Fistula, early marriages and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Mr Ahonsi cited child marriage as one of the main causes of Fistula, since most young girls had under-developed pelvis which prevented them from safe delivery.
He noted that although the law which prohibited the practice of FGM was enacted in 1994, it had not done much to solve the problem, as it was still practised illegally in most communities.
He observed that the triple threat of fistula, FGM and early marriage, were eroding the bodily integrity, human dignity and human rights of women and girls in society.
“The reality is that we are losing the unutilized potential of our young girls, because of early marriage and teenage pregnancy, and again, losing our mothers to maternal mortality and injuries, such as fistula, when they simply choose the noble act of giving life,” he said.
Mr Ahonsi, therefore, urged the participants not to stand on the sidelines and allow such harmful cultural practices and diseases to affect women and girls, but rather use their influence to educate their people on the negative effects of such practices and disease.
“As custodians of our valuable culture, it is necessary for you to lead our country to take steps to prevent fistula by addressing the underlying medical and socio-economic causes, eliminating gender-based social and economic inequities as well as preventing early marriages and FGM.”
He pledged the readiness of the UNFPA to collaborate with Ghana through platforms and initiatives, such as the Campaign to End Fistula, and the Global Initiative on Ending Child Marriage, among others, to ensure that women and girls had access to good health.
Nana Oye Lithur, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, intimated that child marriage had devastating and long-term effects on girls’ health and education, since it could affect not only their future, but their psychological, emotional and mental well being as well.
She said women who had fistula often lost their dignity as they were mostly ostracized and allowed to suffer pain, humiliation and lifelong physical weakness, as well as the loss of self-esteem and their income earning capacity.
She disclosed that the Ministry in collaboration with the Korle Bu, and the Konfo Anokye Teaching Hospitals, and the Mercy Hospital at Mankessim had started providing free treatment and a package for social re-integration for women and girls suffering from Obstetric Fistula, with funding from the ECOWAS Gender Development Centre.
“So far 98 Fistula cases mobilized from across the country have been repaired between November 2013 and April 2015, and we are grateful to ECOWAS for their support,” she added.
She said FGM although outlawed, was still prevalent in northern Ghana, regretting that some Ghanaians even cross the border to neigbouring countries to have the practice perpetuated on their children to escape being caught in Ghana.
Naa Professor John Nabila, President of the National House of Chiefs, praised the Ministry and the UNFPA for targeting traditional and religious leaders for the workshop, as they played a significant role in the socio-economic development of their communities and also wield a lot of influence over them.
He appealed to his fellow traditional leaders to endeavour to do away with negative cultural practices that would not augur well for the development of their communities and their people. GNA