A new course is being taught at the University of Dodoma (Udom), Muhimbili University of Health and Applied Sciences (MUHAS) and the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) this academic year about how medical professionals should deal with female genital mutilation (FGM). This makes Tanzania only the second country in Africa to offer such lessons after Ghana.
According to the United Nations, around 125 million girls and women have undergone FGM. In Tanzania the practice is on the decline but is still prevalent among certain communities.
Idrissa Kikula, Udom's vice chancellor, said the course was introduced to teach medical students and those taking related courses the relevant knowledge and skills to handle FGM cases.
"We did not have university curricula that contained special courses on FGM even though it affects many people. I think it is high time to bridge that gap," Kikula said.
According to Kikula, most FGM victims experience physical and emotional distress and do not always get medical attention due to a lack of expertise in the field.
The three universities have already adopted the course's training manuals. The modules, which were prepared by the Autonomous University of Barcelona, are tailored to meet the needs of health workers, students and other professionals who are committed to fight the practice of FGM in Tanzania.
In 1998 Tanzania outlawed the practice of FGM. However, critics say the law is poorly enforced and does not offer protection to women above the age of 18. Because of this loophole, some regions in Tanzania still carry out the practice.
Ray of hope
While the government believes that health workers have been actively involved in fighting FGM, observers say mainstreaming the subject in university curricula is an important step to end the practice.
"If health workers get the right education, I am sure they can play an active role in eliminating this practice since they work closely with local communities," said Kolumba Mbekenga, a senior nursing lecturer at MUHAS.
Mbekenga said women who have undergone the cut often need specialized treatment and care. Many experience severe vaginal scarring likely to cause complications during child birth.
"Most victims are suffering in silence because often times there is no specialist to help them. I think this course will mark the beginning of the end of this awful practice," she said.
Lilian Mushi, a second year student at MUHAS, said health workers have an important role to play in influencing people's perceptions, attitudes and behavior regarding FGM.
"This education is important to health workers and psychologists since they are influential members of the society who can effect positive behavior change," she said.