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Thursday, February 24, 2011

“Health professionals essential in efforts to stop Female Genital Mutilation” – declares DPS Health

February 24, 2011
Today: The Gambia
Neneh Galleh Barry

Mr. Omar Sey, the deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare has said that female genital mutilation remains a public health concern which beggars the decisive involvement of all health professionals if the crusade against it was to succeed. Mr. Sey who was speaking at a press conference held at the School of Medicine in Banjul exhorted health connoisseurs to play a crucial role in the fight to free the country's women and girls from the pangs of circumcision which leaves severe health complications for victims who sometimes suffer for a lifetime. He said since health workers are in direct contact with the people affected, it behooves them to work in concert with anti-FGM activists to banish this persistent scourge in Gambian communities across the country.

According to the DPS however the capacity of health professionals needs to be enhanced through learning and teaching materials before their role can be rendered effective. He said as part of the process of building their capacities, health personnel should be adequately sensitized on the complications and management of FGM and instead join in advocating for an initiation rite without the involvement of literally cutting the clitoris of women and girls, a cause which he said was being championed by the WGK. He further added that the partnership between different stakeholders of which health practitioners are an integral part should be intensified.

He further said that The Gambia government being conscious of its role in national development is at all times encouraging partners in their service delivery and the Wassu Gambia Kafo (WGK) was no exception.

He described a WGK donation of items to the school as a significant milestone in the drive to enhance the capacity of students and institutions in The Gambia under the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, adding that this was not the first time that the WGK was involved in such a noble gesture.

“WGK as an international NGO operating in The Gambia and Spain and has been fulfilling its commitment which has been recognized by the government through my ministry. The organization is committed to preventing FGM in The Gambia through the training of health professionals and students throughout the country. This has been made possible through the support of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. Statistics from the WHO have shown that, more than 130 million women in the world have endured some kind of FGM practice and suffered untold consequences. It is also estimated that each year, over 3 million girls are at risk of being subjected to this harmful practice, which has strong ancestral roots in 28 sub-Saharan African countries where Gambia is no exception. UNICEF survey in The Gambia has shown that 78 percent of girls and women undergo the practice. This prevalence is driven by deep-seated traditional beliefs, rewards and is perceived to be a religious injunction in a predominantly Muslim country” Mr. Sey explained.

He concluded by thanking the board of directors, management and the entire staff of the Wassu Gambia Kafo for the invaluable contribution to the ministry.

For her part, Adriana Kaplan, the executive director of the WGK said applied research creates new space for university cooperation for development, a fact which she said persuaded them to re-evaluate more traditional practices and evaluate challenges confronting social actors in situations that are sometimes extraordinary and extreme. She said the FGM phenomenon questions their rhetoric and ethical commitment.

She said the role of universities nowadays is to form and shape common opinion about tendencies such as FGM which contribute to hindering the course of development in third world countries such as The Gambia where the practice is still deep-seated. Mrs. Kaplan held that economic growth which takes into account such challenges have a better chance of ensuring the quality of life for a given people.

“University cooperation for development implies knowledge transfer and north-south cooperation to create the necessary conditions for universities in the south to integrate themselves into the international circuit of research and development” she pointed out, adding that building capacities in the field and providing infrastructures are necessary to achieve this goal.

She said since 2007 WGK has been donating important learning materials such as books and laboratory equipment and creating and maintaining a computer lab that has been in operation since 2008.

“Today, we take a step forward donating a laptop and a projector. We know that providing infrastructures is an essential condition in this process, but it is not enough. Building capacities is also crucial, not only at university but also within populations, enabling their empowerment and positions as main architects of their own development” she pointed out.

She went further to say that with this critical approach on university cooperation for development that was started in 1987, the “Translational Observatory of Applied Research to New Strategies for the Prevention of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting” was created in 2008. She said its goal is to implement a comprehensive strategy to address the problem through WGK in The Gambia, and GIPE/PTP in Spain. She said this was possible through a research group from the autonomous University of Barcelona.

“What once was local has now become global” she indicated, adding that establishing ties between immigrant communities and their societies of origin have become necessary in the pursuit of development.

Mrs. Kaplan reaffirmed the WGK's commitment to cooperation for development assuming that sustainable and ethical work is carried out side by side with local institutions, based on understanding and support, and not on compromising their functions.

“The WGK also understand that our role is to transfer knowledge, whose final outcome would be the creation of development alternatives for populations to take advantage of” she posited.