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Health Workers Advised on Care of FGM Victims

Cards are used to teach women about female genital mutilation.

Cards are used to teach women about female genital mutilation.

The World Health Organization has released guidance to help health workers care for girls and women living with female genital mutilation.

About 3 million girls are at risk for female genital mutilation, or FGM, every year, the WHO reports. Many are younger than 15.

Worldwide, more than 200 million girls and women live with the effects of FGM, officials say.

This is the first time WHO officials have produced guidelines on the violent, inhumane custom.

Female genital mutilation is the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

FGM is performed in 30 African countries and a few countries in Asia and the Middle East. FGM cases have increased in Europe and North America as immigrants move to those countries.

Lale Say is the head of WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research. She says the practice can cause severe pain, bleeding and even death. Those who perform FGM are usually unskilled and use razor blades and other cutting tools that are not clean.

“It has high risks during pregnancy and childbirth both for the woman who is delivering, but also for her baby. It can cause obstetric tears, difficult labor and even loss of a baby at the time of the delivery," she says.

"Other health problems -- longer-term health problems -- include psychological risks, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

WHO notes that health workers often fail to understand the physical and emotional problems caused by FGM and do not know how to help its victims.

The new guidelines tell health workers how to prevent and treat obstetric problems and how to help women with depression and anxiety disorders.

The guidelines also warn against what is called the “medicalization” of FGM. Medicalization happens when doctors and nurses are convinced to perform FGM.

WHO medical officer Doris Chou says doctors must refuse requests from family members to perform FGM. She says some adults want doctors to do the cutting because they say it is safer for the girls.

“Medicalization is never acceptable because it violates medical ethics, as it is a harmful practice," she says. Medicalization allows FGM to continue, and the risks outweigh the benefits.

"As health care providers, we actually need to recall that we need to uphold the Hippocratic Oath -- and that is to do no harm.”

WHO says it hopes its advice can help worldwide efforts to end FGM by educating health workers.

I'm Marsha James.

Lisa Schlein reported this story from Geneva for Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. George Grow and Kathleen Struck were the editors.

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Words in This Story

external – adj. located, seen or used on the outside or surface of something

inhumane – adj. not kind or gentle to people or animals; not humane

practice – n. something that is done often or regularly

obstetric – adj. related to the birth of children and the care of women before, during, and after they give birth to children

tear – n. a hole or opening in something (such as a piece of paper or cloth) that is made by cutting it or tearing it

labor – n. the process by which a woman gives birth to a baby

delivery – n. the act or process of giving birth

Hippocratic Oath – n. a promise by a doctor to follow ethical practices in medical care