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29 July 2005
Female Genital Mutilation Associated With Infertility

A study in the medical journal The Lancet suggests that girls who have undergone genital mutilation in childhood could be at risk of infertility later in life. Despite widespread condemnation in the western world, female genital mutilation is still practiced in more than 30 countries. More than 132 million women and girls in Africa have undergone female genital mutilation according to the World Health Organization. While 2 million procedures are done every year, few previous studies have attempted to measure the health effects of the practice.

The new study, conducted by Lars Almroth of the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, focused on whether female genital mutilation (FGM) could lead to infertility. The study participants, who had all undergone FGM in childhood, were recruited from two hospitals in Sudan. The researchers examined the genitalia of each woman to record the extent of FGM. They tested the women for STDs that may have caused infertility but they found that the incidence of sexually transmitted infections was low. What they did find however, was that the infertile women had a significantly higher chance of having undergone the most extensive form of FGM, involving the labia majora (female external genitalia). "Our findings show a strong positive association between the anatomical extent of FGM and primary infertility. The association is not only statistically highly significant, but also highly relevant for preventive work against this ancient practice," said Almroth.

Health experts said that the results of the study could eventually help to end the practice. "Infertility is a social concern as well as a biological one. It threatens the basic structures of traditional society, marriage, and the family. Legitimate concern about impairment of fertility can certainly weigh in heavily and help achieve the attainable goal of ending female genital mutilation," said Layla M Shaaban, from the United States Agency for International Development.

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