FON Launches Maternal Health Initiative
This article by Mimi Budd (15) 65-67 appeared in the Fall 2017 Newsletter.
The FON Board of Directors has voted to launch a fundraising and public awareness project to address maternal health, with a focus on obstetric fistula and family planning.
Obstetric fistula, the devastating childbirth injury that leaves women and girls incontinent, often stigmatized and isolated from their families, usually results from prolonged labor that without prompt medical intervention affects the vagina and rectum or bladder, causing a hole in a woman’s birth canal that leaves her with chronic incontinence, and in many cases, the loss of the baby. The resulting range of injuries can be daunting for health professionals who are working with limited resources. USAID and others have document-ed countless cases of incontinent women who because of inadequately treated fistula are stigmatized among their peers and by society in general. Put simply, the women are often unable to continue with normal life. Data from the National Strategic Framework for Elimination of Fistula in Nigeria indicate that the country bears 40 percent of the world's fistula burden, yet 90 percent of these cases go untreated.
Obstetric fistula, the devastating childbirth injury that leaves women and girls incontinent
Family planning is also a major problem that affects maternal health. Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is expected to overtake the US to become the world’s third most populous nation by 2060 with a population of nearly 475 million. Fewer than one of every five married women uses family planning, according to USAID. An additional 16 percent of women want to delay or limit childbearing but are not using contraception. Limited access to family planning prevents women from safely spacing their pregnancies, fuels unsustainable population growth, and puts the health of women and children at risk.
“As an organization mainly comprising volunteers who served in Nigeria, FON is in a unique position to work with partners on fundraising in Nigeria and the U.S. We will also help spread the word that obstetric fistula prevention and repair and family planning need closely coordinated solutions to make an impact,” said FON Vice President Jim Clark, who announced the organization’s Maternal Health Initiative.
Clark is active in Rotary International, an organization already focused on maternal health and reproductive rights in Nigeria. “Our collective experience in West Africa has provided FON members with insights and a unique platform to bring these closely related issues to the attention of our friends, neighbors and colleagues so that we all may take action. FON officers and members have already begun informal discussions with Rotary in an effort to secure partner-ships on these issues,” Clark noted.
At the October Board meeting, President Greg Jones reestablished a grants committee, focusing on maternal health, consisting of Board Members Ned Greeley (Chair), Mimi Budd and Mike Goodkind. The committee has begun discussing possible FON involvement with several organizations and will continue to explore further partnering options. The committee and the FON Board encourage member recommendations.
A 2016 report by the Secretary General to the United Nations General Assembly on efforts to end obstetric fistula states that the three most cost-effective interventions to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity, including fistula, are: (a) timely access to high-quality emergency obstetric and new-born care; (b) the presence of a trained health professional with midwifery skills at childbirth; and (c) universal access to family planning.
The report further states that universal access to family planning also contributes to saving women’s lives and improving their health by preventing unintended pregnancies, reducing the number of abortions, timing and spacing pregnancies to maximize their health and the health of their babies, and lowering the incidence of death and disability related to complications of pregnancy and childbirth, including obstetric fistula. Family planning may also con-tribute to reducing the risk of recurrence of fistula in future pregnancies of fistula survivors.
The organizations that FON is exploring, or already supporting, are working to implement these interventions. For example, EngenderHealth, a U.S. NGO that is a leader in the field of maternal care in Africa, is working with a large USAID grant to promote fistula care and prevention and family planning. A designated unsolicited donation to FON from a generous friend made it possible for FON to donate $5,000 to EngenderHealth.
Rotarian Action Group for Population and Development (RFPD) is a project of Rotary International led by German Rotarians that has partnered with Nigerian organizations in-country to promote obstetric care. The board is reaching out to FON members who are also Rotary members to explore the establishment of further partner-ships to provide funding. Moving for-ward, the board with member involvement will seek out other organizations, including those that may be headquartered in Nigeria, to support as appropriate.
Readers interested in additional in-formation relating to these issues are encouraged to visit the FON website (select Links from the INFO menu) or go directly to the Links page, https://friendsofnigeria.org/Links/ -- in either case, click on the Maternal Health link. For a particularly poignant look at the obstetric fistula crisis, see the Nicholas Kristof Op-Ed Piece in the March 20, 2016, New York Times, titled: “The World’s Modern-Day Lepers: Women with Fistulas.”
“That title is a call for action,” noted Jones. “As Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who love Nigeria and Nigerians, we will certainly want to do all we can to change this situation.”
Friends of Nigeria is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.
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Mailing address: Friends of Nigeria, c/o Warren Keller, PO Box 8032, Berkeley, CA 94707