The Compelling Story of a Woman Who Survived Obstetric Fistula

By Yolanda Johnny Taylor, Director of Communications for the UN Foundation’s Women and Population Program

Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti reminds us how vulnerable women and children are – particularly in times of disaster. Poor and disadvantaged women tend to be unequally affected by natural disasters and are often overrepresented in death tolls.

One of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti already has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the region – 670 deaths per 100,000 live births. Pregnant women in and around the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, lack access to even the most basic health services.

Although the odds are against women in Haiti, and against women throughout the developing world, success stories do exist:

Caroline Ditina is a young woman in the Democratic Republic of Congo who successfully survived obstetric fistula – a medical condition that the World Health Organization (WHO) calls “the single most dramatic aftermath of neglected childbirth.”  

Last week, this same young woman was highlighted in Secretary Clinton’s landmark speech, in which she cited Caroline’s story as a reminder that “Every woman everywhere deserves high-quality care not only at her most vulnerable hour, but at every single stage of life.”

Below, you can watch Caroline’s story for yourself. During an interview with the United Nations Foundation, she spoke about the social, emotional and economic challenges of obstetric fistula.

In developing countries, an estimated two million women are living with fistula, with an additional 50,000 to 100,000 new cases occurring each year. The average cost of fistula treatment — including surgery, post-operative care and rehabilitation support — is $300, which is, unfortunately, well beyond the reach of most women with the condition. Because of the stigma attached to the condition, women who develop fistulas are often abandoned by their husbands, rejected by their communities, and forced to live an isolated existence.

Caroline’s story, and the stories of millions of women like her, continue to remind us of the importance of addressing the needs and rights of women and girls – particularly those who are most vulnerable. Caroline is a success story; many are not so lucky. 

To learn more about how the United Nations Foundation is working with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)’s Campaign to End Fistula to help more women like Caroline, click here.