Dr. Comfort Momoh MBE is a member of the British FGM national Clinical group and until 2017, served as a public health specialist at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS foundation trust in London. In 2008 New year’s honours, she was appointed a member of the order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to women’s healthcare and in 2016 she was awarded a fellowship by the royal college of midwives. Her work and contribution to raising awareness of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the UK and Africa is phenomenal. It’s not been an easy journey for her to raise awareness, but it has been worth it. Comfort is a remarkable woman more insight into what she does is captured in the interview.
What influenced you to pursue nursing?
As a child I have always wanted to be a nurse, caring, helping and supporting others especially the elderly is so natural for me – hence I wanted to do something that will make a difference in people’s lives. A career that is challenging and interesting. I knew from a very young age that nursing was something I wanted to do with my life. Through secondary school my interest to become a nurse grew and grew and became even stronger
How did you start working with women who had undergone FGM?
During my three years general nurse training at the University (1981-1984) I was confronted with FGM as I had a few friends and classmate who have undergone FGM and were so afraid to talk about their experiences due to secrecy around FGM. I remember asking my grandma about FGM when I first heard about the practice, unfortunately she did not have an answer for me because she wasn’t from the community that practises FGM. Following that I decided to look for answers by researching and asking communities…..
What are the dangers of the practice?
FGM is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as all procedures which involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia and/or injury to the female genital organs, whether for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reasons.
FGM has no health benefits, the many risks/complications outweigh the benefit if I can say benefit, the dangers includes pain, shock, haemorrhage also known as excessive bleeding, severe pain, urinary problems and death
The long-term consequences of FGM includes flash-backs, problems during childbirth, recurrent urinary tract infection, keloid, difficulty in passing menstrual blood, pain when having sex/during intercourse or lack of interest in sex. Also anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and low self-esteem, physical and psychological impact.
How challenging was it when you started working on FGM?
It was very very difficult when I started working on FGM late 80’s when I was doing my midwifery training at North Middlesex Hospital in Edmonton London. Many people from the practising community were angry that I had touched on a very sensitive culture – in their words “this is our secret, our culture and tradition” I had eggs thrown at me, abuse etc. In view of above I was very positive and remain strong as I had a mission and a vision to free girls from FGM.
What are some of the accomplishments you have through your work?
- I am very proud to say that I set up the second FGM clinic in the UK, I trained and supported many professionals to set up their own clinics here in the UK
- I helped the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology to write their first professional guidelines on FGM in the late 80’s and 90’s
- I was involved in the government All Party Parliamentary Hearing on FGM both in the UK and in Scotland
- I was invited to Australia – Melbourne Hospital to give a series of lectures on FGM and as a guest speaker in Cambra at the Australian FGM Summit
- I got to work as consultant for WHO as well as involved in reviewing some of their publications on FGM
- My work here in the UK and worldwide speaks for itself as I received MBE from the Queen, honorary doctorate from Middlesex University
- I am a Royal College of Midwives Fellow
- Visiting lecturer at King’s College (University of London) and the Tropical School of Hygiene
What treatment is available to those who have undergone FGM?
Treatment depends on the type of FGM, however women who had type 3 FGM will need to have what we call deinfibulation – opening the closed area. Some women with FGM 1, 2 and 4 may need psychological or psychosexual support. Some may need ongoing support with recurrent urinary infection or problems with their menstrual flow.
In your opinion what more needs to be done to eradicate FGM
One needs to acknowledge that a lot has been done, however we still have a lot more to do in educating and empowering our young people. More commitment from African leaders will go a long way.
Airlines can help raise awareness, carriers could hand out leaflets to parents travelling with girls to countries where FGM is practised, outlining the health risks and the law, this I believe is a method to get the message across.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently supporting the FGM activities/project and campaign in Africa especially Nigeria. Here in the UK working very closely with the community in raising awareness of knife crime and helping our young people to access help and support they urgently needed (apprentice, mentoring etc.).
Whats next for Comfort?
Who knows! I have pending projects in America and Nigeria
How can the person reading this support or be part of what you are doing?
- Help to raise awareness of the risk and cultural sensitivity of FGM
- Raise awareness of the legal implications
- Supporting local fund raising events
- Making difference
- If you suspect a child is at risk of FGM, you must report your concerns in order to safeguard the child.
According to UNICEF Data, At least 200 million girls and women alive today living in 30 countries have undergone FGM. … While the exact number of girls and women worldwide who have undergone FGM remains unknown, at least 200 million girls and women have been cut in 30 countries with representative data on prevalence. To read more on FGM please visit https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/female-genital-mutilation/