MDGs: FG Intensifies War Against VVF Scourge

The Federal Government has stepped up efforts to stem the ravaging scourge of Vesico Vaginal Fistulae, VVF disease, in Nigeria through a series of preventive and treatment initiatives being implemented through the Office of Senior Special Assistant to the President on Millennium Development Goals, MDGs.

This was disclosed by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on MDGs, Dr. Precious Gbeneol during the private premiere and partners screening of the movie “Dry” produced by popular actress, Stephanie Okereke Linus, which took place at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Wales, UK over the weekend.

The film was produced as part of efforts to increase awareness about VVF. Dr. Christopher Otabor, Head, Information and Communications, OSSAP-MDGs in a statement issued in Abuja on Friday quoted Gbeneol as saying that the renewed effort was aimed at reversing the number of cases of VVF in the country in line with the directive of President Goodluck Jonathan that a new vista of prevention and control be embarked upon to complement current efforts by government to tackle the disease.

"Although efforts have always been made by government over time, the scourge has however continued to rise thereby necessitating the renewed effort, which also takes into consideration concerted sensitisation and advocacy at the grassroots using powerful mainstream media such as Nollywood watched across millions of homes in Nigeria," Dr Gbeneol was quoted to have said during the screening of the film. Gbeneol further added that OSSAP-MDGS had previously, in conjunction with the Federal and State Ministries of Health, Faith Based Organisations, International Development Partners and other stakeholders provided funding mainly aimed at funding VVF repair.

She said the effort resulted in increase in the number of VVF repair centres from 10 to 13 while also deliberately focussing at bridging the human resources gaps that exists.

“We have thus ensured that new VVF surgeons and other allied health workers are trained to address the dearth of qualified personnel in this field. One such intervention is the direct investment of about a million dollars in the training of 41 doctors and 44 nurses with the simultaneous repairs of 308 fistulae in a center in Katsina in the North West and another 172 VVFs in Abakaliki, South East Nigeria," Otabor quoted Gbeneol as saying.

"These and other interventions from many stakeholders appear to merely address a small portion of the problem necessitating the need for a paradigm shift in tackling the VVF problem in Nigeria. We have thus developed the National Strategic Framework for the Elimination of Obstetric Fistulae in Nigeria with focus on prevention as a basic tenet of this approach. You can find a copy of this document online. As the common aphorism goes, prevention is better and indeed cheaper than cure," she added.

It is estimated that Nigeria accounts for 40% of the worldwide fistula prevalence. A recent prevalence study of obstetric fistula was estimated as 150,000. Other previous estimates put the prevalence between 400,000 and 800,000.

The prevalence of fistulae is higher in the North and continues to be fuelled by the stigma attached to the condition in this region.

There have been no large scale prospective studies done in Nigeria to provide reliable estimates of the incidence of obstetric fistula, but one projection puts the incidence at approximately 20,000 new cases a year although some recent small scale studies state lower estimates of approximately 12,000 new cases per year.

The occurrence of vesico vaginal fistulae in Nigeria continues to be perpetuated by a combination of interrelated factors prominent among which is early childbirth, resulting from early marriages.

The typical obstetric fistula patient in Nigeria is best described as young, married at an early age, illiterate, poor, rural, and lacking access to ante-natal care. The 2013 National Demographic Health Survey revealed that half of women aged 25-49 were married by age 18 and 61 per cent were married by age 20.  The median age at first marriage is 18.1 years. Women in urban areas marry four years later than rural women.

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