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Health - Society & Culture

Drexel Women’s Care Center Improving Female Genital Cutting-Related Health Services For Women and Girls in Philadelphia

October 21, 2016

Map of Female Genital Cutting Prevalence in Africa
Prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) for women aged 15 to 49. Source: UNICEF global databases, 2016, based on Demographic and Health Surveys and Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (Wikipedia Commons)

With a rapidly growing immigrant population, Philadelphia ranks seventh among major U.S. cities with the highest prevalence — up to 16,500 — of women and girls impacted by female genital cutting (FGC).

The practice includes the partial or total removal of external genitals, for cultural or other nonmedical reasons, and can lead to long-term social and health effects, especially related to childbirth. FGC affects over 200 million women and girls worldwide, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization

Now, as part of a coalition of organizations, Drexel University’s Women’s Care Center will play a key role in addressing the specific health needs of this population in Philadelphia over the next three years.

The Philadelphia International Women’s Project is a partnership between Drexel, Nationalities Service Center (NSC) and the African Family Health Organization (AFAHO). The project is part of a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that was awarded to eight sites across the country.

“The thought from HHS was that there is a large population of women coming to the United States from countries where FGC is a cultural norm, and there are very obvious gaps in services for women who have experienced it,” said Sandra M. Wolf, MD, executive director of the Women’s Care Center and an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Drexel University College of Medicine. “Immigrant communities are so vital to Philadelphia’s economic growth. Recognizing the needs of these women is important to any sector, and health care in particular.”

The objectives of the Philadelphia International Women’s Project include:

  • Building community partnerships to increase community engagement around FGC and reduce stigma
  • Utilizing a peer-to-peer model to engage affected communities in outreach and education, while facilitating connections to appropriate supportive services
  • Providing essential clinical services to affected women in a culturally sensitive health care home
  • Increasing medical provider competency through a comprehensive provider education initiative that focuses on teaching effective and culturally sensitive FGC care strategies

Wolf has cared for hundreds of patients who have experienced FGC, beginning when she would evaluate asylum seekers for signs of abuse. Soon after, Wolf integrated care specifically for this population of women and girls into services provided at Drexel’s Women’s Care Center.

Sandra Wolf, MD, director of Women's Care Center
Sandra Wolf, MD, director of the Women's Care Center at Drexel University

She has seen a wide range of patients with diverse feelings about FCG and its consequences. Some women believe female circumcision is a cultural practice that should continue, and rather than feeling mutilated, they see the cutting as a minor issue in their lives, Wolf said.

Other female patients were circumcised in their home country and then immigrated to the United States shortly after, without ever having discussed the procedure with anyone. Once they learn they look different from their peers, as teenagers or young adults, it is often a traumatic revelation, Wolf said.

“I think the most important thing a provider can do in that situation is to let a woman know she will be able to live a normal life. She’ll be able to have intimacy and a family, and we will help her to talk to her partner,” she said.

During the three-year project, the Women’s Care Center, the Nationalities Service Center and the African Family Health Organization will work to educate both health care providers and community members about FGC, as well as to increase clinical services for women who have been affected by FGC and to work toward prevention strategies.

“We would like the Women’s Care Center to be a meaningful place in the community, where we can address any unmet needs in health care related to FGC for women and their partners,” Wolf said. “And we want to ensure that all health care settings are prepared for this population, that providers understand the ethical and legal aspects surrounding the issue as well.”

The Women’s Care Center is located at 1427 Vine Street, 7th floor. To schedule an appointment, call 215.762.7824.

Media Contact:

Lauren Ingeno

lingeno@drexel.edu

215.895.2614