|Minister focuses attention on devastating condition|
The Rev. Jill Wiley will lead an initiative on obstetric fistula for
the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. The preventable
medical condition affects 2 million women worldwide. A UMNS photo by
Kathy L. Gilbert.
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
March 24, 2009 | WASHINGTON (UMNS)
Young women living in poverty with no control over their lives are
vulnerable to a preventable medical condition that leaves them with
stillborn babies and a body damaged by childbirth.
The Rev. Jill Wiley has been hired by the United Methodist Board of
Church and Society to help bring the issue of obstetric fistula to the
front burner of the church and the global community. Wiley attended the
spring board meeting on March 20 to introduce herself and her work. She
began her duties on March 16.
“This is a sleeper issue that doesn’t exist in the United States
because it was eradicated by C-sections almost 100 years ago,” said
Linda Bales, executive with the social action agency.
Millions live with condition
Obstetric fistula is a hole in the birth canal caused by prolonged
labor without prompt medical intervention, according to the United
Nations Population Fund, an international development agency that
promotes the rights of everyone to enjoy a life of health and equal
A woman with the injury is left with chronic incontinence and in
most cases a stillborn baby. The smell of leaking urine or feces or
both is constant and humiliating, and often the woman is driven from
her home and ostracized from society. Fistula can lead to ulcerations,
kidney disease and nerve damage in the legs, Wiley explained.
The condition happens when a pregnant woman’s pelvis is too
underdeveloped for childbirth. Usually an underdeveloped pelvis occurs
in young girls and those who are malnourished. It occurs
disproportionally in Africa, Asia and parts of the Arab region, Wiley
said. As many as 2 million women live with the condition, and 50,000 to
100,000 new cases develop each year.
A simple surgery for US$300 can repair the injury. The surgery has a success rate of 90 percent.
Wiley’s position is being funded by a $62,000 grant from the United
Nations Foundation. The Campaign to End Fistula is a program of the
United Nations Population Fund based in New York City.
The Obama administration recently restored funding to the Population
Fund, releasing $50 million for family planning, HIV prevention and
improving maternal health, according to Bales. “It is like a breath of
Campaign to End Fistula
Wiley’s task for the next 12 months is to engage at least 10 United
Methodist annual (regional) conference boards of church and society in
the campaign. She will work closely with the chairpersons of the
conference boards to assess interest and implement a strategy for
action, Bales said.
“United Methodists are good organizers,” Wiley said. “Obstetric fistula
is a devastating injury, and the stigma leaves women isolated.
“The goal of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society is to
reduce the numbers of women and girls experiencing this reality with
the hope of increasing treatment options for those currently living
with fistula,” she added.
Bales and Wiley agreed that a campaign engaging United Methodists must
be grounded in theological, ethical and spiritual reflection as well as
Wiley has been in ministry for more than 20 years, serving
congregations in the United States and England. She was ordained by the
British Methodist Church in 1993. She is a part-time minister at Christ
Congregational Church UCC in Brockton, Mass. She is a graduate of
Perkins School of Theology in Dallas and a native of Iowa.
She noted that her background in theology and social justice, in
serving local churches, and organizing people for common concerns makes
this an ideal position for her.
“It is a calling,” she said.
For more information go to www.endfistula.org, or contact Wiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or Bales at email@example.com.
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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