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Ending female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is a practice that involves the partial or complete removal of the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. Worldwide, more than 200 million women have undergone FGM/C and more than 3 million women are currently at risk. Ngianga-Bakwin Kandala, Professor of Biostatistics at Northumbria University, has spent much of his two-decade-long career analysing data to address maternal and child health problems in Africa and to decrease health-related inequalities. He is now leveraging his expertise in using Bayesian statistical methods to eradicate FGM/C.

Key to Professor Kandala’s work has been collaboration with global non-profit organisations, including the United Nations (UN), World Health Organisation, UNICEF and DfID, the UK’s Department for International Development. One major project, launched in 2015, seeks to quantify the global burden of FGM/C in 27 countries across Africa and the Middle East, and involves UK Aid Direct, a £150m programme, and the Population Council, which conducts research in more than 50 countries worldwide. In a more recent and related project, Professor Kandala received £350,000 from the Population Council to analyse data from Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal to explore how FGM/C affects girls aged 0 to 14, and to examine if factors such as income and education of the girls’ mothers have an impact on its prevalence.

Importantly, Professor Kandala’s research is providing non-profit organisations with a sustained body of evidence for informing and influencing policy. For example, the UNFPA-UNICEF joint programme on FGM is using his work in Kenya, and the other 17 priority countries, to help with FGM/C targeted interventions in high risk groups.

Professor Kandala is also helping these institutions make more effective decisions on how to deploy resources. An example of this is where he contributed to refining the UN’s estimates of the numbers of girls at risk of FGM/C, using the one-of-a-kind Bayesian geo-additive statistical model he developed at Northumbria University. Through this, he has identified hotspots where the practice is widespread, and is helping to mobilise investments to ensure they are targeted at areas where the UN can benefit the greatest number of people.

A strong believer in the positive impact of education, Professor Kandala has been sharing his statistical knowledge through teaching. Not only has he trained UN staffers on methodologies to analyse FGM/C datasets to glean more actionable findings, he is also developing the Sub-Saharan Africa Consortium for Advanced Biostatistics (SSACAB) Training Programme. Its goal is to create research nodes of excellence to grow a biostatistical network to nurture researchers with advanced skills and expertise.

Professor Kandala is committed to raising awareness of FGM/C both among the general public and the academic community. In 2017, he presented his research at the Global Consultations on the Joint UNFPA-UNICEF Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Accelerate Change conference in Uganda. He also spoke at the UN Population Fund, Experts Group Meeting on Costing UNFPA Contributions to Female Genital Mutilation Elimination, in New York. In February 2018, he made his FGM/C research results publically available to mark UN’s the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.

Already making significant inroads through improved analysis of data, Professor Kandala is looking to broaden the impact of his research by talking to the people affected by FGM/C. Working directly with members of under-served communities to better understand the environmental, social and cultural reasons behind the continued practice of FGM/C will give Professor Kandala the necessary tools to help create tailored behavioural programmes to end FGM/C forever.

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