Published by PLOS ONE
Year published 2023

Female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) is a social norm driven practice associated with numerous adverse health complications. Existing assessment tools for health workers are limited by lack of a clear framework for what constitutes the critical knowledge, attitudes, and practices that impact FGM/C prevention and care. The aim of this study was to explore expert opinion of the knowledge, attitudes, and practices for FGM/C-related prevention and care that can be used to inform the development of future KAP measurement tools.

We conducted 32 semi-structured individual interviews with global clinical and research experts on FGM/C from 30 countries including participants from Africa, Australia/ New Zealand, Europe, the Middle East, and North America. Interview questions explored areas of knowledge, attitudes, and practices that influence FGM/C-related prevention and care activities. We used the directed content analysis methodology for the qualitative data analysis.

We identified six categories of knowledge, six of practice, and seven of attitudes that contribute to FGM/C-related prevention and care. Areas of knowledge included: general knowledge about FGM/C; who is at risk for experiencing FGM/C; support for FGM/C; female genital anatomy/ physiology; health complications of FGM/C; management of health complications of FGM/C; ethical and legal considerations for the treatment and prevention of FGM/C, and patient-health worker communication. Areas of practice included: clinical procedures and protocols; management of complications; defibulation; other surgical procedures for FGM/C; pediatric care (including prevention); and patient-centered care. Participants described health worker attitudes that may affect how prevention and care activities are delivered and/or received including attitudes toward: the perceived benefits of FGM/C; harms of FGM/C; ethical considerations related to FGM/C medicalization, prevention, and treatment; providing care for FGM/C-affected clients; women and girls who have experienced FGM/C; communities that practice FGM/C; and affective response to FGM/C. We also present participant perspectives on the ways in which knowledge, attitudes, and practice interact impacting the type and quality of care provided to those affected by FGM/C.

This study identified specific areas of knowledge, attitudes, and practices in FGM/C prevention and care that are important to include in future evaluation metrics. Future KAP tools should be theoretically informed using the framework we present, and assessed for validity and reliability using psychometrically rigorous methods. Developers of KAP tools should consider the hypothesized relationships between knowledge, attitudes, and practices.