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International Day to End Obstetric Fistula

News 23 May 2018

Today marks the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula – an awareness day that aims to raise awareness of the condition. Obstetric fistula occurs due to complications in childbirth and the effects are devastating. Millions of women around the world suffer with the condition which can leave them ostracised, in pain and shamed.

The RCOG is a proud partner of the UNFPA Campaign to End Obstetric Fistula. Find out more about obstetric fistula.

10 facts about obstetric fistula

  1. Obstetric fistula is a hole in the birth canal caused by prolonged labour without prompt medical intervention, such as a caesarean section.
  2. It causes chronic incontinence and leaves women stigmatised and isolated from their communities.
  3. Surgery is available for fistula, but it is expensive, meaning that many women in regions where it is prevalent women cannot afford it. If left untreated, obstetric fistula can lead to chronic medical problems, such as kidney disease and nerve damage.
  4. Not only is obstetric fistula largely curable, it is also entirely preventable with good medical care. However, a lack of education and access to health services means that it affects at least 2 million women living in poverty.
  5. Only around 58% of women in low-income countries give birth with a medical professional present.
  6. At least 2 million women are living with fistula in low-income countries, with around 50,000 – 100,000 new cases developing each year. The true figures are probably even higher.
  7. Around 15% of all pregnancies incur complications that require immediate medical attention. Without this care severe lifelong complications can occur.
  8. In some countries, obstetric fistula is seen as a divine punishment for an assumed wrongdoing, leading to further isolation and marinalisation. This can lead to mental health issues and even suicide. 
  9. Obstetric fistula is 100% preventable.
  10. The Global Campaign to End Fistula was launched in 2003 by the UNFPA, aimed at educating healthcare professionals to reduce incidence of fistula and reduce the stigma surrounding the condition.


Find out more about obstetric fistula, including the work of RCOG Fellows and Members providing the fistula service abroad, and hear from the women who have been affected. 

How to get involved:

A key factor in reducing cases of obstetric fistula is raising awareness. To join in the conversation, use these hashtags: