By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Three Tanzanian universities are offering a new course on female genital mutilation (FGM) to train health care professionals how to is still widely practised although illegal.
The course, to be taught at the University of Dodoma, Muhimbili University of Heath & Allied Sciences (MUHAS) & the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC), makes Tanzania the second country in Africa to offer such training after Ghana.
FGM, which involves total or partial removal of the external female genitalia, has been illegal in the east African nation since 1998 yet the law is poorly enforced & thousands of girls are affected every year.
More than 7.9 million girls & women in Tanzania are believed to have undergone FGM which causes numerous health problems. Some girls bleed to death or die from infections, while others die after in life from childbirth complications.
Idris Kikula, vice chancellor of the University of Dodoma in central Tanzania, said the course is designed to equip students pursuing medicine & social sciences with skills & knowledge to take an active role in eliminating the practise.
"FGM has for years been affecting women & young girls. Much has been done to overcome the problem, albeit with poor results as there were no professionals to deal with the matter," Kikula said. "I believe this initiative will ultimately lead to sound results."
Kikula said the physical & psychologicalÂ suffering faced by most FGM victims does not always obtain the attention of trained health care specialists due to a lack of expertise.
The courses contains topics such as the origin of FGM & its health complications & how to manage & counsel girls & women with physical, psychological & sexual complications.
FGM affects an estimated 140 million girls & women across a swathe of Africa & parts of the Middle East & Asia, seen by many families as a gateway to marriage & way to preserve a girl's virginity. Uncut girls are often ostracised.
Nigeria outlawed FGM earlier this year, & the practise survives in only a few countries in the region, including Sierra Leone, Liberia & Mali.
Sia Msuya, a public health expert at the KCMC in Moshi, said the training would assist broaden the understanding of most health workers so they can meet the specific needs of the victims with the practise deeply rooted in local traditions.
"Most girls who have undergone the female cut often keep their stories to themselves because they don't see someone to tell," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Rehema Mosha, a first year medical student at MUHAS in Dar es Salaam, said the course should have been adopted a long time ago because FGM has inflicted "so much pain on so many people".
"I believe that with appropriate training we can be advocates for alter to eliminate this harmful practise once & for all," sheÂ told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption & climate change. Visit www.trust.org)