Ambigious genitalia cases rife in Matabeleland

Mpilo Central Hospital clinical director Dr Solwayo Ngwenya has called on members of the public with ambiguous genitalia to register with the hospital to undergo medical examination to curb them from developing cancer.

Addressing journalists at the hospital, Tuesday, Dr Ngwenya said the condition is a complex, sensitive subject which has become rife in Matabeleland province and South Africa mostly due to historical migrations.

Ambiguous genitalia is a rare condition in which an infant’s external genitals don’t appear to be clearly either male or female.

In a baby with ambiguous genitalia, the genitals may be incompletely developed or the baby may have characteristics of both sexes.

Dr Ngwenya said tests can be run at an early stage to determine the dominant sex for the baby and the surgery procedure can be safely done even when the baby is around 7 or 12 months old.

He said most people suffer this condition because their parents choose a sex for their new born baby from an uninformed position which disadvantages the child as they grow and reach puberty.

“We want to assist these people so that they do not get to this stage. Prevalence of this condition is around 1.7%. The most common condition is one where the person is actually a girl, but because of bio-chemical and enzyme problem inside the body, this leads to a lack of an enzyme.

“It leads to quite a number of androgens being produced (testosterone). From birth the person appears to be male, when they are actually female. Due to that the girl is hence brought up as a male. In reality, this person is actually female and can have children. They have the uterus and ovaries,” said Dr Ngwenya.

He added: “Second group is those with both male and female organs. One can predominate as a male or female and relatives will raise the child as such. The hormone testosterone would be very high and the person would be forced to take medication. The danger of such is they would suppress already functioning male hormones. The medication, if put at the wrong place, can cause cancer. Most of these people succumb to widespread cancer at between the ages of 28 and 30.”

Dr Ngwenya reiterated the importance of medical screenings to locate where the male organs are and then remove the inappropriate organs so that they can be left assigned to a specific sex.

“We would like to help correct such people so that they can go on to live as females as they are and have normal lives. Surgery can be performed and these people can carry on with their lives as females. If the surgery is not done, they cannot reproduce and they are going to have problems with menstruation.

“The nurses and doctors cannot quite tell whether the baby is a boy or a girl. Most of the time they record that the baby is ambiguous genitalia. They advise the parents to bring the baby for tests but the parents usually just disappear into the community.”

Dr Ngwenya explained there is need for a national policy to handle these cases.

He said when one undergoes surgery there may be need to change the sex recorded on their birth certificates.

Dr Ngwenya said a number of people have registered already and the hospital is anticipating more to come forth.

He said where surgery is necessary, normal government charges will apply and those above the age of 65 will be treated free of charge.

Those who want to register can contact Ozias Ndlovu on 0772881992/0719881992  or email ozy@mpilo.org.zw

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