Journal Article

Exploring barriers to seeking health care among Kenyan Somali women with female genital mutilation: A qualitative study

Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is a cultural practice associated with health consequences, women rights and deprivation of dignity. Despite FGM/C-related health consequences, circumcised women may encounter additional challenges while seeking interventions for reproductive health problems. Experiences of women/girls while accessing health services for reproductive health problems including FGM/C-related complications in poor, remote and hard to reach areas is poorly understood. We sought to explore barriers to care seeking among Somali women with complications related to FGM/C in public health facilities in Kenya.

We drew on qualitative data collected from purposively selected women aged 15–49 years living with FGM/C, their partners, community leaders, and health providers in Nairobi and Garissa Counties. Data were collected using in-depth interviews (n = 10), key informant interviews (n = 23) and 20 focus group discussions. Data were transcribed and analyzed thematically using NVivo version 12.

Barriers were grouped into four thematic categories. Structural barriers to care-seeking, notably high cost of care, distance from health facilities, and lack of a referral system. Concerns regarding perceived quality of care also presented a barrier. Women questioned health professionals’ and health facilities’ capacity to offer culturally-sensitive FGM/C-specific care, plus ensuring confidentiality and privacy. Women faced socio-cultural barriers while seeking care particularly cultural taboos against discussing matters related to sexual health with male clinicians. Additionally, fear of legal sanctions given the anti-FGM/C law deterred women with FGM/C-related complications from seeking healthcare.

Structural, socio-cultural, quality of service, and legal factors limit health seeking for reproductive health problems including FGM/C-related complications. Strengthening health system should consider integration of FGM/C-related interventions with existing maternal child health services for cost effectiveness, efficiency and quality care. The interventions should address health-related financial, physical and communication barriers, while ensuring culturally-sensitive and confidential care.