GWSPH Researcher Presents on Women’s Health at APHA Annual Meeting

Faculty, students and alumni from Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) traveled to Atlanta earlier this month to attend the American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting. Every year, the event brings together the public health community for five days of lively sessions and presentations by leaders and experts in the field, including those from the Milken Institute SPH community.  

Ghada Khan, project director for the Development and Testing of a Community Centered FGM/C Prevention Project, which is housed within the Department of Prevention and Community Health, presented this year on the issue of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in the U.S. Her session, “Understanding the health care needs of women in the US who have undergone female genital cutting,” was inspired by the qualitative research that Khan and her colleagues have been conducting on the issue of FGM/C in the DMV area.

“It’s not like you’re preaching to the choir,” Khan said of presenting at APHA’s Annual Meeting. “You’re adding to the knowledge base.” She said it was nice to see a genuine interest around the topic of FGM/C.

Khan’s been attending this particular conference for the last 10 years and has presented at the last four meetings. She said the feedback she gets at the end of a presentation is invaluable. For example, at the end of her presentation this year, she realized that there is a greater need for awareness around FGM/C. While everyone in the audience cares about health, many weren’t familiar with the topic of FGM/C, which is a relatively unexplored issue in the U.S. Khan said that takeaway will influence her work back at Milken Institute SPH.

The Development and Testing of a Community Centered FGM/C Prevention Project, along with partner RAHMA, received a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in June 2016 to research FGM/C in the DC metropolitan area. Since then, Khan, Associate Professor, Vice Chair of the Department of Prevention and Community Health, and Principal Investigator on the project  Karen McDonnell, along with their associates, have interviewed FGM/C survivors and talked with local health care providers, many of whom weren’t aware of the issue, to get a sense of how many women are affected by this issue and how it affects their lives.

A year and a half into the study, Khan said that they’ve discovered that women who have undergone FGM/C often don’t seek medical treatment because of previous negative experiences with health professionals. Cultural norms around gender roles as well as feelings of shame may also prevent women from seeking out health services.

To help close the resource and knowledge gap on this issue, Khan and her colleagues will work closely with community partners to develop a toolkit for survivors and health care providers to better understand and communicate about FGM/C.