Fatima; Credit: © UNICEF Ethiopia

The Fondation Espoir has hired four gynaecologists to care for girls and women subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in Ethiopia; the four additional doctors will help the current team treat up to 2,000 victims subjected to FGM/C each month in Ethiopia’s most affected regions.

This is part of a five-year programme funded by Fondation Espoir designed to accelerate the elimination of FGM/C in Afar and Somali regions of Ethiopia, where the prevalence is over 90%. The gynaecologists will address the growing number of cases of women and girls seeking help due to the increased understanding that their symptoms can be partially or fully alleviated with the appropriate treatment and as a direct result of the preventative element of the programme.

Despite the substantial increase in the number of nurses and doctors working in Ethiopia, the country still faces acute shortages of health workers. The greatest need is for doctors with a ratio of 1 per 36,158 people; this ratio drops even lower in remote and rural areas such as Afar and Somali, and even more dramatically for specialists such as gynaecologists. The average number of girls and women being treated each month for FGM/C complications is increasing as a result of the successful implementation of social mobilisation initiatives and more open dialogue on the topic. On a monthly basis, two doctors already engaged in the five-year project are covering 4 hospitals and treat approximately 600 women across Afar and Somali regions. This number could nearly triple in the coming months. The four additional gynaecologists will be able to provide a range of procedures to care for women and girls affected, including surgery for gynaecologic complications, managing high risk pregnant mothers and FGM/C counselling.

The Government of Ethiopia has taken strategic and programmatic measures to eliminate FGM/C. Some of the key actions include; endorsement of the National Strategy and Action Plan on Harmful Traditional Practices against Women and Children and communication strategy for social norm change and establishment of the National Alliance to End Child Marriage and FGM/C. The Government has shown a ground-breaking commitment to end FGM/C and child marriage by the year 2025 at the London Girls’ Summit and reinforced by setting a target to reduce the practice to 0.5% in the Growth and Transformation Plan II (GTP II).

Dr Hatse Abreha, one of the gynaecologists of Aysaita Primary Hospital recruited by UNICEF with the support of the Fondation Espoir, said: “The practice started a long time ago and most women in these communities are affected. But now, thanks to the programme which started by Fondation Espoir and UNICEF Ethiopia, health providers and health extension workers are going house to house to discuss, convince and even talk about the legal aspects of FGM/C. Communities are gaining new insights and more and more people know that there are gynaecologists who can support.”

Aysaita Primary Hospital is one of the hospitals in Afar region that was upgraded from a health centre in 2014, providing services for a majority pastoralist population of approximately 100,000. Through Fondation Espoir support, the hospital employed a gynaecologist in May 2016. Following his assignment, the hospital started providing inpatient and outpatient management for FGM/C complications and for different gynaecologic and obstetric cases.

Dr Mariame Sylla, UNICEF Health Specialist in Ethiopia, said, “The presence of gynaecologists has made a huge difference by providing quality of care to victims of FGM/C and raising awareness on the medical consequences of this practice. If we want to accelerate the elimination of the practice of FGM/C in Afar and Somali regions, prevention and care of victims go hand in hand. The number of women seeking help continues to rise, in part due to our outreach work. Thanks to Fondation Espoir, we have been able to meet this need in a record time and many more women will now be able to get the support they desperately need.”