Blog Post #3 for LIBR 281: FGM and Global Health Informatics

 

HIFA2015 Coordinator and Co-Director of the Global Healthcare Information Network Neil Pakenham-Walsh, and New York Law School professor Molly Lund, recently wrote a blog post in which they state, “Access to information is critical for the protection of a variety of international human rights, particularly the right to health.”  This human rights statement is very dear to my heart, having recently read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide and becoming interested in the movement to abolish female genital mutilation (FGM).  Edna Edan most inspired me as one of Half the Sky’s key figures: she fights to end the practice of FGM in Somalia and throughout the world.

FGM is commonly called female circumcision or female genital cutting.  The World Health Organization (2013) defines FGM as “any procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”  FGM is practiced largely as a cultural or religious act to preserve a girl’s virginity and to ensure her fidelity during marriage.  It is practiced in more than 20 countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.  In those countries, FGM prevalence rates range from 5-99% of the female population.  An estimated 130 million women and girls (most of them between 5 and 10 years-old) have been subjected to some form of FGM; two million more will experience FGM each year (WHO, 2013).

FGM results in many health- and life-threatening complications (e.g. hemorrhage, severe and recurrent infections, hepatitis, HIV, retention of urine, infertility, obstructed birth, etc.).  It can affect the psychological wellbeing of the women and children on which it is performed.  In countries where large numbers of women undergo FGM, the resulting medical complications place a huge strain on health systems.

Activists like Edna Edan are working to enhance individual and population health outcomes by abolishing the harmful act of FGM.  Major actors in the fight against FGM include global organizations like OHCHR, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNECA, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNIFEM, and WHO.  As early as 1979, the WHO recommended that FGM be eradicated.  Since then, the WHO has created several publications to spread health knowledge and to promote the elimination of FGM.

Edna Edan, herself, has employed a Website and Facebook page to spread knowledge of FGM and to encourage its abolition.  Other steps to abolish FGM include sensitizing front line health professionals via One Voice Training and database record keeping to track eradication progress; sensitizing the community through school curriculums and trainings for mothers and influential businesses; and using various forms of media (boards, pamphlets, videos, and CDs, blogs, etc.) to establish permanent informatics.

Dr. Neil Pakenham-Walsh’s HIFA2015 Website states, “Governments have a legal obligation to make healthcare knowledge available to health workers and citizens.”  I agree that the responsibility to eradicate FGM lies with many players and informatics platforms.  Accountability, however, rests with government.  Might we consider better implementation of health informatics to sway the governments of countries where FGM is still practiced?

Bibliography:

Edna Edan Maternity Hospital (2013). Female genital mutilation. Retrieved from http://www.ednahospital.org/hospital-mission/female-genital-mutilation.

World Health Organization (2013). Female genital mutilation (FGM). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/en/index.html

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