The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recently released its annual State of World Population (SWOP) report for 2021. The 2021 SWOP report highlights issues relating to reproductive and sexual health. This year’s report focuses on the theme of bodily autonomy, the power of women to make decisions about their own bodies. The report details a variety of the barriers women around the world face to have this autonomy. It also highlights many of the issues Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is working to address, including access to maternal health care and educating young women to become highly-skilled health professionals.
The 2021 SWOP report identifies guaranteed access to maternity services as an indispensable part of bodily autonomy for women. The report stresses that all women need access to essential reproductive and maternal medical care if they are to be empowered to make decisions about their own bodies.
According to the UNFPA demographic dividend dashboard, only 45.2% of women aged 15 to 49 in Ethiopia have access to medical advice to help make informed decisions regarding sexual relations, contraceptive use and reproductive health care.
Hamlin is working to ensure more Ethiopian women have access to quality maternal health care to prevent fistula injuries. For those women who have suffered an obstetric fistula, Hamlin fistula hospitals offer life-saving care and treatment.
The presence of six strategically-placed Hamlin fistula hospitals throughout Ethiopia provides women from different regions and rural areas with increased access to surgery to repair fistula injuries.
By treating fistula injuries, and expanding outreach to identify women suffering with fistula in remote rural areas, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia’s work aligns with UNFPA’s goal of greater bodily autonomy for women.
Women with fistula injuries are left incontinent and are often ostracized from their communities as a result; as such, Hamlin’s work in treating fistula injuries enables women to have the autonomy they deserve. Hamlin works to empower women to reassert their humanity, secure their health and well-being, and regain their roles in their families and communities.
Another point of action identified in the 2021 SWOP report is the prioritization of intervention in areas where health care is most needed. Ethiopia has a significant demand for maternal health care services, with a fertility rate of 4 children per woman and an estimated 31,000 women living with a fistula injury throughout the country. Fistula has devastating impacts on the health and social circumstances of a woman, and subsequently her family and community. Focus and attention on the eradication of this preventable childbirth injury remains a clear priority for the country.
Hamlin’s fistula hospitals provide best-practice care specifically for fistula cases. There are also more than 50 Hamlin-supported midwifery clinics in rural areas tasked with providing maternal, sexual and reproductive health care including prevention of fistula injuries. Through these facilities Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, contributes towards the 2021 SWOP report’s recommendation of a focus where health care is most needed. This help is especially needed in rural areas of Ethiopia, where there is limited access to health care facilities.
The role of midwives in providing essential maternal care to women has also been noted in the 2021 SWOP report as part of assuring all women have autonomy over their bodies. The SWOP report described the presence of midwives as an opportunity for women to access gender-responsive care.
With only 28% of births in Ethiopia being attended by a skilled medical professional, the need for more midwives is central to preventing women from developing fistula injuries.
In the 2019-2020 financial year, Hamlin-supported midwifery clinics in rural areas enabled 37,232 women across Ethiopia to be seen for their first antenatal check, and delivered 24,856 babies. In addition, 145,078 patients received short-term and 77,290 patients received long-term family planning services at Hamlin-supported midwifery clinics. More families are accessing care delivered by Hamlin Midwives to make educated decisions around their reproductive rights and birth planning.
In instances of obstructed labor, Hamlin Midwives are able to appropriately scale-up care, transport women when needed and drastically reduce the likelihood of a woman suffering an obstetric fistula injury. As such, the work of Hamlin Midwives in rural Ethiopia ensures fistula prevention extends throughout the country.
Hamlin Midwives are crucial in delivering this responsive care to all Ethiopian women. Students are recruited from specific geographical areas identified by Hamlin as needing increased maternal health services. Upon graduating from the Hamlin College of Midwives, Hamlin Midwives are deployed back to their communities, where they provide vital care to rural women. As they understand the area’s language and relate to the community, Hamlin Midwives offer trusted maternal care to women living in rural Ethiopia. With the 2021 SWOP report stating that bodily autonomy cannot be achieved without convenient and close access to maternal care, Hamlin Midwives are helping to empower women and families across Ethiopia.
Through its world-leading fistula treatment and fistula prevention programs, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is working to ensure more women can make autonomous decisions about their bodies. The work of Hamlin is only possible thanks to our generous supporters. If you would like to support our programs today, and help ensure more Ethiopian women have access to quality maternal health care, you can make a donation here.
The full 2021 SWOP report can be found here on the UNFPA’s website.
Written by Anna Norden, intern at Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation.