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WHO issues guidelines to treat female genital mutilation

Chase WinterMay 16, 2016

The UN's health body has released guidelines to physically and mentally treat those living with female genital mutilation. Nearly 200 million women and girls have been subjected to the dangerous practice.

Kenia Mann trägt T-Shirt gegen Weibliche Genitalverstümmelung - Female Genital Mutilation FGM
Image: Reuters/S. Modola

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday issued the first ever guidelines to help health workers treat those suffering from the mental and physical trauma of female genital mutilation (FGM).

More than 200 million women and girls suffer the consequences of the widely condemned partial or total removing of female external genitalia, which can lead to life long bleeding, problems urinating, infections or even death.

"FGM has no health benefits, can cause grave harm, and violates the rights of girls and women," the WHO said in a statement.

FGM is prevalent in 30 countries in Africa and several pockets of Asia and the Middle East despite widespread prohibitions and education campaigns that have reduced the practice's reach.

With rising migration, FGM is also becoming a concern in the West, where it is criminalized. Hundreds of thousands of women in Europe are estimated to have undergone FGM and many girls are still at risk, according to the EU.

Health professionals in countries where FGM is practiced are often unaware how to treat victims of FGM and may even help perform cutting, the WHO said. Even in the West, many health workers who encounter FGM victims are unfamiliar with the practice and how to treat it.

"Health workers have a crucial role in helping address this global health issue. They must know how to recognize and tackle health complications of FGM," said WHO Assistant Director General Flavia Bustreo. "Access to the right information and good training can help prevent new cases and ensure that the millions of women who have undergone FGM get the help they need."

Infografik Female genital mutilation/cutting Weibliche Genitalverstümmelung Englisch

Separate from education and social campaigns to end FGM, the WHO guidelines focus on preventing and treating obstetric complication and the mental health of victims. It also highlights a set of practices for health professionals to follow to ensure they are not contributing to the practice.

"It is critical that health workers do not themselves unwittingly perpetuate this harmful practice," said Lale Say, WHO Coordinator, Department of Reproductive Health and Research at WHO.

One recommendation is de-infibulation, or a surgical procedure that reopens a closed vagina. Some cultures may repeatedly practice reinfibulation - which entails the closing or "tightening" of the vagina - before marriage, after childbirth or when a husband is gone for long periods of time.