The World Health Organisation, WHO, says Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, exacts a crippling economic as well as human cost, and treating its health impacts amounts to 1.4 billion dollars per year globally.
WHO made this known in a statement posted on its website on Thursday to commemorate the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, celebrated yearly on February 6 globally.
Dr Ian Askew, Director, WHO’s Department of Sexual, Reproductive Health and Research, said that FGM was not only a catastrophic abuse of human rights that significantly harms the physical and mental health of millions of girls and women.
Askew said it also drains a country’s vital economic resources, adding that more investment was urgently needed to stop FGM and end the sufferings it inflicts.
WHO noted that new modelling revealed the total costs of treating the health impacts of FGM would amount to 1.4 billion dollars globally per year, if all resulting medical needs were addressed.
“For individual countries, these costs would near 10 per cent of their entire yearly expenditure on health on average; in some countries, this figure rises to as much as 30 per cent,” it said.
The health body said that the interactive modelling tool that generated the data was launched on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.
WHO said that women and girls living with FGM face serious risks to their health and wellbeing, including immediate consequences after being cut, such as infections, bleeding or psychological trauma, as well as chronic health conditions that can occur throughout life.
“Women, who have undergone the procedure, are more likely to experience life-threatening complications during childbirth. They may face mental health disorders or suffer chronic infections.
“They may also have pain or problems when they menstruate, urinate or have sexual intercourse.
“All of these conditions warrant much-needed medical attention and care,” the world health body said.
Also, Dr Prosper Tumusiime, Acting Director, Universal Health Coverage and the Life Course, African Regional Office, WHO, said that high healthcare costs for countries mount because of the tragic personal impacts on women and girls.
“Governments have a moral responsibility to help end this harmful practice; FGM hurts girls, imposes lifelong health risks on the women they become, and strains the healthcare systems that need to treat them,” Tumusiime said in a statement.
WHO noted that preventing FGM brings major benefits for women, girls, communities and economies, adding that using data from 27 high-prevalence countries, the Cost Calculator demonstrates clear economic benefits from ending FGM.
“If it were abandoned now, it shows that the associated savings in health costs would be more than 60 per cent by 2050.
“In contrast, if no action is taken, it is estimated that these costs will soar by 50 per cent over the same time period, as populations grow and as more girls undergo the procedure,” it said.
It added that since 1997, great efforts had been made to end FGM, through work within communities, research, and changes in legislation and policy.
WHO said that 26 African countries and the Middle East now explicitly legislate against FGM as well as 33 other countries with migrant populations from FGM-practicing countries.
The health agency said that it was also working with countries to raise awareness of the harmful impacts of the practice among their health workers, and to engage them in prevention efforts.
Commenting, Dr Christina Pallitto, Scientist at WHO, said that many countries and communities were showing that abandoning female genital mutilation was possible.
“If countries invest to end female genital mutilation, they can prevent their girls from undergoing this harmful practice and promote the health, rights and well-being of women and girls,” Pallitto said.
WHO stressed that female genital mutilation was internationally recognised as a human rights violation and had no medical benefits and causes only harm.
WHO position is that FGM must never be carried out.
FGM include procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
More than 200 million girls and women alive today are estimated to have undergone the practice across 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated.
FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and 15 years of age.