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Friday, March 27, 2009

Ten Thousand Women with Fistula Receive Life-Changing Surgery

Dear colleagues and friends,

EngenderHealth and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) today celebrate a milestone in global maternal health: A total of 10,000 women have received fistula repair surgery with U.S. support since 2005. Fistula, a devastating childbirth injury affecting millions of women in developing countries, can be surgically repaired up to 90% of the time, but most of those with the condition lack access to a skilled surgeon or health center, making treatment out of reach.

Four years ago, USAID launched a global effort to both treat and prevent fistula. To date, through initiatives such as the EngenderHealth-led Fistula Care Project, and in collaboration with local governments, regional health care organizations, and faith-based organizations, medical teams in 12 countries and 25 health facilities across Africa and Asia have been trained and equipped to provide surgery for fistula.

It is these trained medical professionals, as well as their supporting institutions, whose dedication has made it possible for 10,000 women to regain dignity and hope through fistula repair surgery. We honor the tireless efforts of the surgical teams as we mark this maternal health milestone.

Obstetric fistula is an injury caused by prolonged obstructed labor, when the head of the baby cannot pass safely through the woman's birth canal. The baby often dies as a result, and the woman is left with an abnormal opening in the birth canal and chronic incontinence. If left untreated, fistula can lead to skin ulcerations and infections, kidney disease, social isolation, and even death.

The hopeful part of the story is that in addition to most cases being reparable, fistula is almost entirely preventable. This is why the Fistula Care Project is working to improve access to emergency obstetric care and cesarean section for women who develop complications during delivery. Together with skilled attendance at all births and the availability of voluntary family planning, this could make fistula as rare in the developing world as it is in the industrialized world. The Fistula Care Project is working to engage all levels of society to raise awareness about fistula and its underlying causes, including early pregnancy, poverty, and a lack of education and empowerment for women and girls.

As the largest USAID-supported effort to both treat and prevent fistula, the Fistula Care Project will keep you apprised of our work to transform the lives of thousands more women and girls around the world--work that is possible thanks to your partnership. To learn more, please visit our web site at

Gratefully yours,

Karen J. Beattie
Project Director
Fistula Care Project

The Fistula Care Project is a five-year cooperative agreement funded by USAID and managed by EngenderHealth. The project works to address the enormous backlog of women awaiting life-altering fistula repair, ensuring that they receive timely and quality care from trained providers. At the same time, it works to remove barriers to emergency obstetric care that lead to fistula in the first place, so that women in labor get to the right place with the right services at the right time. The project is supporting a network of facilities offering a continuum of services, from emergency obstetric care, referrals, and family planning to complex fistula repairs and advanced surgical training. Visit for more information or contact

The American people, through USAID, have provided economic and humanitarian assistance worldwide for nearly 50 years. For more information about USAID and its programs, visit

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