Most Americans have never heard of obstetric fistula. That's because this painful, humiliating injury was eradicated from our country over a century ago, thanks to medical advancements and proper maternal care.
Tragically, obstetric fistula still ruins the promising lives of millions of young girls and women in Africa and poor countries around the world. Fistula is typically caused by several days of obstructed labor without timely medical care. In most cases, it could be prevented with a cesarean delivery.
Poor women in undeveloped nations often don't have access to proper maternal care and suffer the grueling consequences of fistula: their baby usually dies and they are left with chronic incontinence. Unable to stay dry, the woman is often abandoned by her husband and family and ostracized by her community. Without treatment, her prospects for work and family life are greatly diminished. Many fistula victims are forced to turn to a life of begging in order to survive.
UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is admirably leading the global effort to treat, prevent, and eradicate fistula by bringing proper maternal care and health education to poor women and girls around the world who need it.
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In 2002, the Bush Administration de-funded UNFPA amidst erroneous claims the organization supported forced abortions and sterilizations. These claims were eventually debunked by the Administration's own fact-finding team, but UNFPA's funding has yet to be restored. President Bush continues to withhold funds that Congress appropriated for this vital agency, choosing instead to bow to the right-wing radical opponents of family planning.
The funding withheld from UNFPA now totals $127 million, a sum that could have gone to help surgeons in Africa and elsewhere perform thousands of surgical repair procedures, restoring desperate women to healthy, normal lives. UNFPA has independently raised $11 million to fight fistula, but that is far short of what is needed.
I recently reintroduced the bipartisan bill, H.R. 2114, "Repairing Young Women's Lives around the World Act," which would direct a voluntary $34 million U.S. contribution to UNFPA strictly for the prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation of women with obstetric fistula. Seventeen members of Congress have already agreed to co-sponsor my bill, and I hope more of more colleagues will pledge their support to legislation that would save the lives of millions of women and babies around the world.