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Burundi: Lack of Surgical Care Puts Women at Risk
Burundi 2011 © Martina Bacigalupo
BUJUMBURA, BURUNDI/NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 15, 2013—The only medical facility in Burundi providing free, comprehensive treatment for obstetric fistula may close due to a lack of trained medical staff, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned today.
The Urumuri Center, located in the city of Gitega, is run jointly by Burundi’s Ministry of Health and MSF and is the only facility in the country providing free, comprehensive treatment. Since its opening in July 2010, 1,000 operations have been performed there, enabling women to return to normal life and emerge from the social exclusion that often accompanies obstetric fistula, which is caused by complications during childbirth and can lead to incontinence. The surgeons who perform the procedure are expatriate volunteers with MSF on assignment for limited periods of time.
“While we are delighted to have been able to treat so many women and allow them to recover their dignity, we are also concerned about the future,” said Bavo Christiaens, MSF’s head of mission in Burundi. “Despite our repeated requests to health authorities, we have not been able to train a single physician to operate on fistulas. We are thus launching a new appeal to our partners to take advantage of the unique opportunity that the Urumuri Center offers to train Burundi’s doctors in this procedure.”
Approximately 1,200 women develop obstetric fistulas in Burundi every year. MSF fears that the Urumuri Center will close when the program is turned over to the country’s authorities.
“MSF provides temporary support, and our goal is to turn our activities over to local health authorities,” said Christiaens. “Sharing our expertise and providing training is an integral part of our commitment here in Burundi.”
MSF has been working in Burundi since 1993 and currently manages three projects, two of which focus exclusively on maternal health.