Media Advisory - Ethiopian health expert to discuss invisible tragedy of fistula

    Pregnancy complication often leaves women debilitated, childless, and
    "leaking" urine and feces from vagina

    HALIFAX, June 16 /CNW Telbec/ - Dr. Mulu Muleta, an Ethiopian surgeon, is
in Halifax to present a keynote speech on obstetric fistula - a condition that
is virtually unknown here in Canada, but is silently destroying the lives of
nearly 2 million women worldwide. Dr. Muleta will be presenting at the 2009
International Women's Health Symposium, hosted Wednesday, June 17, 2009, at
the World Trade and Convention Centre in Halifax.
    Obstetric fistula is a complication of pregnancy which causes a hole to
develop in a woman's vagina, creating a passageway between her vagina and her
rectum or bladder. The condition is a result of prolonged labour, and leaves a
woman continuously leaking urine, feces, or both from her vagina. It is most
common within the developing world, in areas that lack access to emergency
obstetric care or caesarean section. In these places, an obstructed labour can
last for days, putting the mother's life in jeopardy, and often leading to
fistula and stillbirth.
    "Fistula really is a tragedy on many levels," said Dr. Muleta, who has
spent the past 18 years treating women with fistula in Ethiopia. "In addition
to their physical injuries, these women often develop serious social problems,
including divorce, exclusion from religious activities, separation from their
families, worsening poverty, malnutrition and almost unendurable suffering."
    In Ethiopia, where Dr. Muleta practices, a woman will develop a fistula
in about two out of every 1,000 births, and an estimated 26,000 Ethiopian
women are currently living with the disability. The problem is largely due to
a lack of access to trained health professionals during birth - in the
country, 94% of births are not attended by a health professional.
    Despite efforts of women with an untreated fistula to remain clean, the
smell of leaking urine and feces is overpowering, and leaves many women
ostracized from their community, their work, and even from their families. The
result is a negative spiral that can lead to even further poverty and
stigmatization for these women.

    Canadians working to end fistula

    "Canadians have been leaders in the international efforts to make
pregnancy and childbirth safer, but much more work is needed to help make
fistula a thing of the past," said Dr. Scott Farrell, a Halifax
obstetrician/gynaecologist, President of the Society of Obstetricians and
Gynaecologists of Canada, and a volunteer with the International Women's
Health Program. "We have the knowledge and expertise to prevent fistula, and
to make pregnancy safe for women everywhere. What we need is a greater
commitment from governments, international organizations, and health
professionals to ensure that this expertise can be put to use in parts of the
world where it is gravely needed."
    The International Women's Health Symposium is hosted by the International
Women's Health Program. Dr. Farrell is one of many Canadian health
professionals who volunteer their time to work abroad under the not-for-profit
program, which provides emergency obstetrical training to health professionals
in less-developed countries. The program focuses on preventing the most common
causes of death or injury during pregnancy and childbirth.

    Media are invited to attend the International Women's Health Symposium,
hosted at the World Trade and Convention Centre in Halifax on Wednesday, June
17, 2009, from 08:00-17:00 (ADT). Dr. Muleta's keynote presentation will begin
at 10:15 a.m. (ADT)

    For More Information

    A backgrounder containing additional information on obstetric fistula is
    available online at:

    About the International Women's Health Symposium

    The International Women's Health Symposium features keynote speakers from
around the world examining why, despite decades of international commitment, a
half million women still die during pregnancy and childbirth each year. The
symposium features Canadian and international keynote speakers - including
health experts, anthropologists, sociologists, economists and lawyers - who
will be looking at Canada and the world's role in preventing this tragedy. The
event is hosted by the International Women's Health Program, an initiative of
the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.

    A complete program for the event is available online at:

For further information:

For further information: Media Contacts: Dr. Muleta, Dr. Farrell, and
other keynote speakers are available for comment by contacting: Mike Haymes,
Media Relations Officer, SOGC, (902) 440-3263, Natalie Wright Director of
Communications and Public Education, SOGC, (613) 240-0169

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Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada

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