In recent history, the Democratic Republic of Congo has most notably been in the headlines for atrocities that came with the country’s civil war, which took five million lives between 1994 and 2003. It was even called Africa’s first world war because the conflict drew in several neighbouring countries. Congo is a country rich in resources like diamonds, gold and copper, but, sadly, its wealth in materials has not been properly utilised for the betterment of its people.
In 2006, the country had its first free elections in 40 years, which resulted in Joseph Kabila being elected president. In 2015, at least 30 people were killed in protests fighting against proposed changes to the electoral law that was believed to be designed to allow Kabila to remain in power. With wars continuing to be waged in the east of the country, it is fair to say the republic has experienced more than its share of problems.
A beacon of hope that emerged in 1999 was Dr. Denis Mukwege, who founded the Panzi General Hospital in Bukavu in Eastern Congo to help deal with the atrocities taking place. The region of the country has been ravaged by war and sexualised violence for more than two decades.
The hospital now serves more than 400,000 people located in the Ibanda Health Zone and is supported by the US-based Panzi Foundation. The organisation makes strategic investments to help end violence against women and girls in Congo as well as throughout the world.
Dr. Mukwege specialises in gynaecology and obstetrics. Since opening, Panzi has become more focused on the treatment of victims of sexual violence. He originally completed his studies with a thesis in paediatrics on the vaccinations of newborns against Hepatitis B. His original intention was to move into the field of paediatrics until he saw horrific things happen to women in a maternity clinic in Lamera.
“Women were coming in bleeding day after day, many with severe infections,” he recounted in an interview with Glamour Magainze. “A woman had a baby and carried it dead in her vagina for a week. It was terrible. This helped me make a total engagement in a new career.”
He then decided to specialise in gynaecology in Angers, France. Later, he moved back to Lemera to train the healthcare staff in obstetrics and gynaecology.
In 2015, he said he had treated over 40,000 victims of sexual violence or extreme brutality. That same year, he earned a PhD from Université libre de Bruxelles for his thesis on traumatic fistulas in the Eastern Congo.
He has spoken out about the situation in Congo at forums all over the world, including the United Nations (UN). According to a report from the Pacific Standard, the Panzi has treated over 85,000 girls and women with complex gynaecological injuries. Dr. Mukwege is still the chief surgeon at Panzi and sees nine to fifteen new patients per day. He is viewed by many as the world’s leading expert on surgically repairing damage caused by gang rape.
Unfortunately, his work has not gone unnoticed by the kind of attackers that have targeted many of his patients. In 2012, several armed men attacked his home, held his family hostage and waited for him to return. Dr. Mukwege and his family were unharmed, but his guard was shot dead. The assassination attempt led to him being exiled in Belgium and devastated operations at Panzi.
In early 2013, the doctor returned to Congo with funds that his patients had raised for him by selling onions and pineapples. As he returned to Bukavu, he was greeted with a warm welcome, stretching the entire 20 miles from Kavumu Airport to the city.
Dr. Mukwege has earned international recognition for his work, including the UN’s Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 2008, the EU’s Sakharov Prize in 2014 and the Seoul Peace Prize in 2016. He was also listed amongst TIME Magazine 100 Most Influential People in 2016, and the Carter Foundation deemed him to be a “Citizen of the World”.
In 2018, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with activist Nadia Murad for their “efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.”
The inspiring activist also runs the Dr. Denis Mukwege Foundation, an organisation created to “support survivors and use national and international advocacy to achieve lasting, systemic change.”
Dr. Denis Mukwege
Dr. Denis Mukwege