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Valley Refugee Women's Clinic Treats Women Who Have Undergone Female Genital Cutting

Published: Thursday, December 15, 2016 - 4:33pm
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(Photo courtesy of Duke Photography)
Dr. Crista Johnson-Agbakwu

Arizona is one of the top ten states in the country for new arrivals of refugees from all over the world. And, most of them are women and children.

The Refugee Women’s Health Clinic at Maricopa Integrated Health Systems was built to address their needs.

We speak with the woman who founded that clinic about her work serving women who have undergone the practice of female genital cutting.

This isn’t something you expect to hear about in the U.S., let alone in Arizona.

But there are about 200 million women and girls affected by female genital mutilation, also called “cutting” or “female circumcision” across the world, in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. And, many refugees from those areas of the world end up resettling here in Arizona.

Dr. Crista Johnson-Agbakwu, director of the Refugee Women’s Health Clinic here in the Valley, tells us that much of her work is focused on training the community of providers about this practice — and how to treat many of the complications that can result from it.

“Often this is performed on girls, mostly commonly either in infancy or between the ages of 5 and 10, where often girls may not have a choice and so that’s why this has become a human-rights issue. Because, how can we protect the girls — and women — from undergoing cultural procedures for which they have no say so in what’s done to their bodies and that can have significant impact on their life.”

How big is this population of refugees here in Arizona?

More than 75,000 refugees have resettled in Arizona, and each year, more than 4,000 new arrivals come to our state, according to Johnson-Agbakwu.

And, she said, Arizona also has the highest rate of complex medical cases among its refugee population.

Johnson-Agbakwu has been working through the Refugee Women’s clinic for the last several years to build that kind of network to approach the issue of female genital mutilation.

They recently received a million dollar grant to train providers, offer outreach to the refugee community and the health-care community, among other things, across Arizona for women affected by this practice.

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