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Friday, February 6, 2009

Dr. Denis Mukwege: Finding Hope Where There Is Little

The ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has devastated women’s health and lives in many ways. Women continue to be brutalized by rape and sexual violence—the prevalence of which is considered to be the world’s worst. And due to the threat of violence, women have limited mobility, and many are unable to get the basic or emergency obstetric care they need, resulting in unnecessary maternal deaths and injuries. But one man, Dr. Denis Mukwege, is helping to bring hope in the DRC by healing women with fistula, a devastating vaginal injury.

As a founder and director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Dr. Mukwege and his team offer a safe space where women suffering from fistula—which can be caused by sexual violence as well as by injuries sustained during prolonged childbirth—can be surgically repaired. Panzi Hospital is the first of its kind in the area. As the conflict in the DRC has escalated, so too has the number of fistula survivors. Dr. Mukwege and the Panzi staff have risen to the challenge: More than 3,500 women are treated annually at Panzi, and over 500 fistula repair surgeries were performed from 2006 to September 2008.

Dr. Mukwege is all too familiar with the complex situation in the DRC. Growing up there, he knew he wanted to be a doctor from a young age, when he accompanied his father, who was a pastor, on visits to members of the community who were ill. After he became an obstetrician-gynecologist, he fully recognized how desperately maternal and reproductive health services were needed.

In recognition of his dedication, he was awarded the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 2008. A fierce advocate for women, Dr. Mukwege is also committed to preventing sexual violence, addressing the psychosocial factors that lead to gender-based violence. He often speaks out about how and what men need to do to stop it.

The Fistula Care Project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and led by EngenderHealth, will assist in training doctors and nurses in obstetric care and help Panzi Hospital continue its work in fistula repair in the region.

Listen to an interview with Dr. Mukwege on National Public Radio.

An inspiring speaker, in the coming weeks Dr. Mukwege will appear with playwright Eve Ensler at several events across the United States as part of the “Turning Pain to Power” tour by the V-Day Campaign, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. A conversation with Dr. Mukwege and Eve Ensler will be held at the 92nd Street Y in New York on February 11. Tickets are available online.

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