Receiving UN Population Award, experts spotlight forgotten victims

Catherine Hamlin briefs journalists

6 July 2004 – Accepting the United Nations Population Award today in New York, two experts urged the world to pay closer attention to the largely forgotten plight of victims of health problems which are exacerbated by poverty.

Demographer John Caldwell, who has done extensive research on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, and Catherine Hamlin, a founder of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, shared the Award, given annually to individuals and institutions for their outstanding work in the field of population and in the improvement of the health and welfare of individuals.

At a press conference, Ms. Hamlin explained that obstructed labour, which leads to the debilitating condition of fistula, occurs in 5 per cent of all women, whether in developed or developing nations, but the effect is far different in each.

"In Africa, it can be a disaster, because there are so few hospitals, so few doctors, so few roads, so few health centres - nobody to help a woman in obstructed labour except the village women," she said.

The condition is tragic because after five or six days of labour, these women go on to deliver a stillborn baby. Worse, they are permanently injured with fistula, tears in the area between the vagina and rectum. A social stigma against victims exacerbates their suffering.

The 80-year old doctor hailed the UN for exposing "this horror, this terrible affliction, this human tragedy" to the world.

The hospital works to cure and assist the sufferers of fistula. "We are trying to make new lives for young women," she said, stressing that she was accepting the Award on its behalf.

Mr. Caldwell, 75, an internationally acclaimed demographer who focuses on Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, was recognized for his role in producing an unparalleled body of work to frame the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa as a demographic, epidemiological and socio-cultural phenomenon.

He noted that fertility is falling in most parts of the world, except in rural sub-Saharan Africa, and pointed out that both poor and rich countries alike suffer from demographic fluctuations, whether related to larger families or below-replacement level birth rates.

Video of press briefing [35mins]

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