May 23th is the International Day to End Fistula, and Enhance Worldwide is engaged in global efforts to eradicate this horrible, and preventable, childbirth injury. Fistula occurs when prolonged childbirth creates a hole in the bladder or rectum, leaving girls and women incontinent. According to the UN, approximately 2 million women suffer from fistula in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Arab region, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Here in the United Sates, we eradicated fistula by delaying first pregnancy and creating wider access to medical care. In Ethiopia, the Enhance team is working to end fistula by sending adolescent girls to school. Pregnancy and childbirth remain a leading cause of death for girls in lower income countries like Ethiopia. When girls do survive they are at risk for fistula because their hips are not wide enough for safe childbirth. School protects girls from child marriage, helping communities see them as children and therefore not marriageable. Since the overwhelming majority of adolescent pregnancies occur in marriage, by delaying marriage age we are keeping girls safe from the psychological and physical trauma of pregnancy and childbirth during their own childhood. As I heard Kate Gilmore, the Deputy Director of the United Nations Population Fund, say, “a safe passage from the world of the child to the world of the adult cannot be an elite privilege.”
By keeping girls in school and away from marriage, we’re working toward creating this safe passage for a group of girls in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Join our conversation to #endFistula on Twitter. For more information on fistula in Ethiopia, check out A Walk to Beautiful. Onward!