Doctor Charges UN With Ignoring Women’s Needs for Basic Medical Care

By Austin Ruse | November 23, 2001

     (NEW YORK – C-FAM) The medical director of a Catholic relief agency charges that UN officials in some of the poorest countries in the world reject the assistance of obstetricians and gynecologists if they do not offer reproductive services. Dr. Robert Walley, medical director of MaterCare International (MCI), charges he has been routinely ignored by UN officials once they learned that he was Catholic and pro-life, even though pregnant women desperately needed medical attention.

     Walley believes these actions show the UN is more interested in stopping births through contraception and abortion than helping women who suffer complications in childbirth. Walley believes that funding patterns prove where UN interests lie, arguing that, "While billions of dollars have been spent on abortion and birth control programs, only a small fraction is focused on providing emergency obstetric services."

     Walley's group, MCI, was established in 1995 to provide women in the developing world with basic maternal care. The organization is comprised of Catholic obstetricians, gynecologists, midwives and general practioners. MCI is active mainly in western Africa, where it seeks to reduce the world's worst maternal mortality and morbidity rates.

     MCI treats young women who develop a condition known as obstetric fistulae, which occurs when a woman's bladder or rectum become damaged during obstructed labor, leading to intense pain and incontinence. According to Walley, a woman who suffers from this condition " becomes a complete outcast and is treated worse than a leper by her husband, family and society, simply because she is wet, filthy and foul-smelling." It is estimated that over one million women suffer from this condition, almost exclusively in countries that lack basic medical services. MCI trains traditional birth attendants so that obstetric fistulae does not occur, and performs surgery on women who have already developed the condition.

     Walley charges that because "motherhood is not politically important," international organizations like the UN spend almost no money to help women suffering from things like obstetric fistulae. In 1996, UNICEF even admitted that the absence of international attention to the condition amounted to "a conspiracy of silence and a lack of imagination." For example, the World Health Organization's 1998 "World Health Day for Safe Motherhood" promoted contraception, the repeal of "restrictive" laws and women's empowerment, but never mentions the need for surgery to correct obstetric fistulae. Nor is obstetric fistulae mentioned in the "Platform for Action" of the Beijing Women's Conference.

     MCI is currently attempting to provide essential obstetric care in East Timor. Walley claims that, even though "there are no obstetricians in this country with a population of 700,000 and one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Asia," the UN is hampering MCI's efforts. To Walley, this is a clear indication that the UN believes it is better for East Timor to have no obstetrician than to have a pro-life obstetrician.