By Sharon Atieno

With the medicalization of female genital mutilation (FGM) emerging as a key trend, the inclusion of healthcare workers in campaigns against this practice is crucial.

Experts said during a Nairobi meeting to mark the International Day for zero tolerance to FGM celebrated annually on 2nd February.

Medicalization, a situation in which FGM is practiced by a healthcare provider in a public or private clinic, at home, or elsewhere, is gaining momentum globally.

The global prevalence of this practice is between 1% to 74%, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) with medicalization being highest in Sudan (67%), Egypt (38%), Guinea (15%), Kenya (15%) and Nigeria (13%) for women aged 15-49 years.

Though in Kenya, the rate of FGM has decreased from 38% in 1998 to 15% in 2022, according to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2022, for every five girls (0-14 years) who have undergone the practice, one was performed by healthcare workers. The hotspots for medicalization are in Kisii, Narok, Kajiado, Garissa, and Nairobi.

“We want healthcare workers to be champions of change at two levels,” Prof. Patrick Ndavi Muia, Associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology and epidemiology, University of Nairobi said, noting that they should advocate for no FGM performed by healthcare workers and secondly, by being sources of change in communities by diplomatically showing their clients why FGM does not have a purpose.

According to Prof. Muia, also the Coordinator and Head of the African Coordinating Centre for Abandonment of FGM, whether done by healthcare workers or by traditional circumcisers, FGM does not have any health benefit.

The practice, he said, violates bodily integrity and leads to death, obstruction during delivery, cerebral palsy, fistula, and poor mental health among other conditions.

According to Christina Pallitto, Scientist, Department of Reproductive Health and Research, WHO, the healthcare sector and providers have an important role to play in order to eradicate FGM.

She observed that healthcare workers interact with communities regularly hence, they are better positioned to inform them and influence attitude change to end the practice.

To this end, WHO developed two new tools to help healthcare providers give the best quality care to girls and women who have been subjected to female genital mutilation – and to also support global efforts to end this harmful practice and human rights violation.

The Person-centred communication for FGM prevention: a facilitator’s guide for training health-care providers guide helps healthcare providers to examine their own values towards FGM, and to build their knowledge and skills on how to empower their clients to make decisions to stop this harmful practice.

On the other hand, Integrating female genital mutilation content into nursing and midwifery curricula guide addresses the gap in training for midwives and nurses by providing information on how to prevent FGM as well as how to care for girls and women who face its diverse negative consequences.

Globally, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM, but despite efforts to eradicate the practice every year in the world, WHO notes that three million girls and women are estimated to be at risk of the practice.

The International Day for zero tolerance to FGM was started in 2012, by the United Nations General Assembly with the aim of amplifying and directing the efforts on ending this practice.