Women and their babies present at a health talk about fistulas at Sinchu Baliya Health Post.

Women and their babies present at a health talk about fistulas at Sinchu Baliya Health Post.

I am more than half way through my internship with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Cape Point, The Gambia. UNFPA does amazing work in the areas of family planning, sexual and reproductive health (SRH), gender-related issues (e.g., early marriage, FGM, GBV) and HIV prevention. They are currently working to accomplish the objectives of their Strategic Plan 2017-21. During my first few weeks, I participated in a sensitization campaign for obstetric fistulas on International Day to End Obstetric Fistula. UNFPA went to the Bundung Maternal and Child Health Hospital, a public hospital under the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, and Sinchu Baliya Health Post, both facilities that garner a large population of pregnant women attending antenatal care (ANC) visits. During the event, messages regarding symptoms and treatment options for fistulas were delivered in three local languages (Wolof, Mandinka, and Fula) to accommodate for the group present.

UNFPA Programme Analyst for Family Planning Commodity Security, Mr. Alieu Jammeh, giving a health talk on fistulas at Sinchu Baliya Health Post

UNFPA Programme Analyst for Family Planning Commodity Security, Mr. Alieu Jammeh, giving a health talk on fistulas at Sinchu Baliya Health Post

Due to the lack of available data on fistulas in Gambia, UNFPA is hoping that the sensitization campaign will produce a fistula count of women who have the condition. By lifting the stigma and encouraging women to sympathize with affected women, hopefully more women will seek treatment and get registered through the fistula count camp. One of the most valuable lessons that I have been lucky enough to learn is how to deliver culturally sensitive messages and cater to the communities you are trying to serve.

UNFPA's National Coordinator for FGM and Gender speaking with men at Bundung MCH Hospital's weekly male clinic.

UNFPA’s National Coordinator for FGM and Gender speaking with men at Bundung MCH Hospital’s weekly male clinic.

This observation was made at a weekly male engagement clinic that Bundung MCH Hospital initiated back in 2012. The session is a discussion style program with men whose wives (or significant other) attended an ANC visit that week. These men are contacted via SMS and/or phone calls and encouraged to attend the clinic. Men who accompany their wives to ANC visits are given priority and allowed to bypass the long visit lines as incentive for their participation. Bundung’s investment in male involvement has inspired UNFPA to pilot similar programs in other organization supported facilities across The Gambia. I am currently co-writing a concept note that implements a pilot project strengthening Bundung’s male clinic and eventually developing a standardized programme to be applied to other health facilities.

Me (right) and fellow UNFPA intern at Gambia Family Planning Association (GFPA).

Additionally, since UNFPA works through Implementing Partners (IPs), I have been able to observe the operation of these organizations, including the challenges they encounter in fulfilling their goals. There are so many organizations in Gambia that are working to empower women and girls, including Think Young Women, a mentorship programme that is one of UNFPA’s Youth and Adolescent IPs. During the next couple weeks, I will be diligently laying the foundation for the pilot male clinic initiative and going on four-day upcountry visits to the more rural facilities. Since Bundung is a public hospital that began with funding, it will be an opportunity to compare rural vs. urban facilities and ways that male clinic would be incorporated while considering the existent financial situation of the facility. I’m a little sad that the weeks are going by so fast, but I feel a deep sense of gratitude for all the exposure I’ve been getting. Can’t wait to share more experiences!

-Fanny