A recent study that appears in the current edition of The Lancet said that girls who undergo genital mutilation might be at high risk from becoming infertile.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is practiced in more than 30 countries. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 132 million women and girls in Africa have undergone FGM, and that about 2million procedures are done every year. Few previous studies have been appropriately designed to measure the health effects of the practice.
Researchers from Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden had investigated whether FGM could lead to infertility.
Between March 2003 and June 2004, the team recruited 99 infertile women and 180 women, pregnant for the first time, from two hospitals in Khartoum, Sudan. All participants had undergone FGM in childhood. Women were included in the infertile group if their infertility was not caused by hormonal factors, previous abdominal surgery, or the result of their partner's infertility. The researchers examined the genitalia of each woman to record the extent of FGM. They also tested the women for sexually transmitted infections that may cause infertility.
They found that infertile women had a significantly higher risk of having undergone the most extensive form of FGM, involving the labia majora (female external genitalia), than controls. The incidence of sexually transmitted infections was low in both groups.
The researchers conclude that their 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.
In a comment to the research, Layla M Shaaban (United States Agency for International Development, Washington, DC, USA) states: "Infertility is a social concern as well as a biological one. It threatens the basic structures of traditional society, marriage, and the family. The way to overcome female genital mutilation is through multiple strategic approaches with various different messages, which collectively tip the weight of public opinion. Legitimate concern about impairment of fertility can certainly weigh in heavily and help achieve the attainable goal of ending female genital mutilation."