GRÓ GEST Director Visits The Lilja’s Fistula and One Stop Centre in Mangochi, Malawi

15 November 2023
GRÓ GEST Director Visits The Lilja’s Fistula and One Stop Centre in Mangochi, Malawi

The GRÓ GEST Director, Dr. Irma Erlingsdóttir visited Malawi in November, where she visited GRÓ GEST’s partners, both old and new. Among the sites visited was the Lilja’s Fistula and One Stop Centre at the Mangochi District Hospital, a care centre for survivors of sexual violence and inter institutional support centre addressing fistula. Dr. Erlingsdóttir was welcomed by Dr. Henry Chibowa, the Director of Health and Social Services (DHSS) in Mangochi, who guided her through the services and the hospital. He emphasied the importance of the centre‘s comprehensive approach, coordinating the engagement of law enforcers, the social welfare office, and the youth, in sensitising communities to recognise gender-based violence cases, and to remove stigma around fistula.

The Lilja’s Centre was opened in December last year, 2022, by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland. The Centre is named in honour of the late Lilja Dóra Kolbeinsdóttir, a former Head of Mission at the Embassy of Iceland in Lilongwe, Malawi, and a former Project Manager of the GEST Programme. The establishment of Lilja’s Fistula and One Stop Centre at Mangochi District Hospital was a milestone in achieving sexual and reproductive rights and health goals in the district. The facility helps women and girls who are survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) to access services under one roof. The aim being to transform the lives of the women and girls who have survived violence and those who suffer from obstetric fistula, by providing surgeries, psychological support, and economic opportunities. Mangochi has one of the highest rates of fistula in Malawi, with about 170 such cases detected every year. The Government of Iceland has been a firm supporter of fistula prevention and treatment in Malawi for years and is continuing that support in Nkhotakota district.

Dr. Erlingsdóttir also visited the Mangochi District Hospital’s Maternity Wing that opened in 2019 with support from the Government of Iceland through the Mangochi Basic Services Programme (MBSP II). The DHSS, Dr. Chibowa, informed Dr. Erlingsdóttir that with the opening of this state of the art facility, including operating theatres, maternal deaths dropped by 40%, and pregnant women and newborn children get quality antenatal, obstetric and post-partum care at the facility.

Lilja Dóra Kolbeinsdóttir worked for the GEST Programme from 2011 to 2013 and, later served as Head of Mission of the Embassy of Iceland in Lilongwe. Tragically, Kolbeinsdóttir passed away from cervical cancer in 2021. She was a tireless campaigner for gender equality. She was guided by a clear vision about development and health care and the establishment of the Fistula and One Stop Centre was inspired by her ideas. Kolbeinsdóttir was an expert and mentor in the field of gender and development work and a true friend to everyone who worked with her. Even after her time at the GEST programme, she continued to take a keen interest in the programme, helped select outstanding fellows and raised funds for various projects. Given this deep history with the GEST programme, and as a personal friend, it was a true pleasure and heart-warming for Dr. Erlingsdóttir to visit a life-saving place for girls and women named in her honour.