FGM
The World Health Organization has warned doctors, health workers from performing female genital mutilation Picture: A mother and daughter walk home after a meeting of women from several communities eradicating female genital mutilation, in the western Senegalese village of Diabougo 10 September, 2007.Reuters

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday warned doctors and other health workers against performing female genital mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision. The global health agency said in an official statement that performing FGM violates the human rights of girls and women, and is against the Hippocratic Oath of "Do no harm."

"It is critical that health workers do not themselves unwittingly perpetuate this harmful practice" Lale Say, coordinator of the Adolescents and at-risk populations team in the WHO Department of Reproductive Health and Research, said.

According to WHO, there are currently more than 200 million girls and women whose genitals have been cut. These practices are mostly carried out in countries in Africa, Middle East and Asia.

WHO defines FGM as the procedure that intentionally alters or causes injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It further said that such procedures have no health benefits for girls and women.

FGM can lead to complications in child birth and increase risk of newborn deaths besides causing bleeding, infection and cysts in females.

WHO issued guidelines to the healthcare-providers on Monday, saying they need to provide care to girls and women who have undergone FGM. It further said that many are unaware of the potential negative health consequences of FGM and are often inadequately trained to recognise and treat these properly. As a result, girls and women can suffer needlessly from the negative physical and mental health consequences of this harmful practice, according to the WHO.

"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," WHO Assistant Director General Flavia Bustreo said.

Bustreo added that 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.

FGM is mainly carried out due to socio-cultural factors that vary from one region to another. In some societies, FGM is an accepted sexual behaviour. It is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered acceptable sexual behaviour aimed to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman's libido and thus help her resist extra-marital sexual acts, the official statement said.