“Too many people don’t even know what fistula is, because they don’t experience it as an issue.”

Alisa is a leading philanthropist and campaigner for human justice and health issues.

How has motherhood changed your perspective on maternal health?
Comparing levels of care during childbirth – it can get pretty dire. In the U.S. they really hold your hand, they walk you through the tests, the vitamins, the questions. Then you go to a hospital in a low-resource setting and there are no bed sheets in the hospitals, just old torn mattresses. Women deliver, if they make it to hospital, on a cold metal frame.

We talk about health all the time with our children – we’re so lucky when it comes to that.

What’s your greatest frustration when it comes to women accessing healthcare worldwide?

It’s not always a priority for everyone.

I think there could be more focus on it – we should come up with better ways of addressing certain issues, and even exposing them.  Too many people don’t even know what fistula is, because they don’t experience it as an issue.

When did you first learn about obstetric fistula?

About eight years ago, through Richard Branson and Virgin Unite.

That was after I had all my children.  So I actually didn’t know it was a risk; it was not even a concern while I was pregnant.  That’s how it should be, because no one needs to suffer that trauma.

If it does happen – because transport is an issue, because a woman in labour can travel days to get to a hospital – we need to see that it’s not a taboo, that they get the surgery they need.

What can people do about it?

Ask questions.  I’ve been on so many boards in the last 20 years and I’m always the one who won’t stop asking questions.  About accountability, about the specifics, about how money is being spent.

There’s a lot of duplicating efforts in global health and it really bothers me – because there are so many areas, like access to safe surgery for women, that still need attention.