Last week, the world celebrated International Women’s Day—a timely reminder of the millions of women across the globe suffering without adequate maternal care. Women living in poor, rural areas are the most vulnerable. They bear the highest risk of developing childbirth injuries like obstetric fistula, a wrenching consequence of obstructed labuor. Fistula renders a woman incontinent, and too often, she becomes a social outcast because of her constant smell.

At its core, pharma is about saving and bettering lives. However, improving access to care is a complex mission, and can’t be achieved alone. It’s important for pharma companies to take a collaborative and global approach.

The pharmaceutical industry, with its access to resources, networks, and expertise, is in a strong position to unlock healthcare access for all women — especially the poorest and most vulnerable. Indeed, this is its responsibility. To maximise impact and engage stakeholders, pharma businesses need to focus on programs with clear links to their business models.

In 2014, with the critical help of funding from Astellas EMEA, Fistula Foundation launched Action on Fistula, a transformative, countrywide programme that applies a systematic approach to address every element in the battle against obstetric fistula.

After a decade of growth and dedicated focus on fistula treatment strategies around the world, Fistula Foundation developed Action on Fistula’s groundbreaking model. It takes every step of a woman’s journey to healing into account — beginning with innovative community outreach into rural areas. This serves multiple purposes: to build cultural awareness about fistula, de-stigmatise victims, and identify women for treatment. Once identified, each woman is referred to a hospital in our nationwide treatment network. The hospital staff that greets her has been specially trained in fistula care. Her surgeon has been trained and certified by the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO).

Not only does each woman receive top-notch medical care, but she also receives psychological counselling and physical therapy. When she is ready to return home, she participates in job-skills training, as well as follow-up medical care and reintegration support. Pre- and post-operative care are key in her successful recovery.

Action on Fistula’s three-year pilot delivered excellent results: more than doubling the goals set at the beginning of the initiative. To date, Action on Fistula has provided life-changing fistula surgery to over 3,000 Kenyan women, trained six FIGO-certified fistula surgeons, and conducted over 10,000 outreach activities across the country. Now, as the programme enters its second phase, we aim to transform 4,500 lives with fistula surgery by 2020.

Action on Fistula has taken great strides towards ending fistula in Kenya. However, there is still more work to be done. Fistula can be prevented through access to emergency obstetric care, and contraception for couples to plan and space wanted children. But, while maternal healthcare is improving, universal coverage is far off.

Both Fistula Foundation and Astellas are committed to meeting our goal to treat 4,500 women by 2020. However, for the program to continue, more support is immediately needed. This program, and programs like it, will suffer without more support from the pharmaceutical industry. Any businesses interested in supporting Action on Fistula can contact Fistula Foundation via

The pharma industry has the capacity to drive profound global change by supporting charity programs like Action on Fistula. By identifying your business’ expertise and collaborating with experts on the ground, you are in a strong position to help improve women’s lives — today and in the future.

Kate Grant is CEO of Fistula Foundation. Action on Fistula is supported by a grant to the Fistula Foundation by Astellas Pharma Europe Limited