Opinion | Forget the Scarf. These Gifts Change Lives.


Almost all Somali girls are subjected to an extreme form of genital mutilation: All the genitals are cut away, and the raw flesh is sewn shut with wild thorns, leaving a tiny opening for urine and menstruation. After marriage, the flesh is cut open.

Edna herself was held down and cut when she was 8 years old, and she has been campaigning against the practice since 1976; initially, this got her arrested. But she has made progress, and this year the Somaliland Ministry of Religious Affairs issued a fatwa condemning this extreme form of genital cutting.

So, readers, consider a gift to the Edna Adan University Hospital — and help save a woman’s life.

With the $100,000 prize money that comes with this column, along with what more readers contribute, the hospital plans to buy a machine to produce oxygen — an essential that every hospital needs for babies and adults struggling to breathe. Edna also hopes to start a lab to examine biopsies and Pap smears for cervical cancer, and to train staff members to operate it. There is now no place in the country to read Paps, and biopsies are given to someone flying to Ethiopia to hand-carry to a hospital there.

If your holiday giving preferences run elsewhere, the three runners-up will also make excellent use of your contributions. So consider these causes:

FIGHT CERVICAL CANCER. This is a disease that kills more women worldwide than childbirth yet gets much less attention. Cervical cancer is also a painful and humiliating way to die: It is sometimes diagnosed partly by the stench from rotting flesh. What’s more, cervical cancer is relatively cheap and easy to prevent with HPV vaccination (less than $5 a shot in developing countries) or a screen-and-treat protocol for precancerous lesions.

I suggest the Maya Health Alliance in Guatemala, also known as Wuqu’ Kawoq, which works with indigenous Maya villagers. As individuals, we can’t change America’s harsh policy toward Guatemalan migrants, but we can help save the lives of Guatemalan women from cervical cancer. An American doctor, Kirsten Austad, donates her time at the Maya Health Alliance, making the organization’s work particularly cost-effective. Nobody need die in the 21st century of cervical cancer.

FIGHT WORMS AND BLINDNESS. If cervical cancer is a horrific and easily preventable disease for women, a counterpart that strikes men is a parasite-caused disease called elephantiasis. It swells up the scrotum to such huge proportions that men must use wheelbarrows to carry their private parts. It also causes monstrous swelling of the feet of men and women alike so that they look like elephant legs, hence its name.

This disease survives only because the people who suffer these horrors are impoverished. The End Fund is working mightily to eradicate elephantiasis and other “neglected tropical diseases,” including river blindness and trachoma, both excruciatingly painful causes of blindness. They, too, have cheap and simple solutions.

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