Dr. Denis Muwege

 

This month I want to bring attention to a man whose dedication and tireless courage has brought hope to tens of thousands of women who have been victims of rape and sexual brutality in the ongoing conflict in the Congo.

Although the stories of these women have recently been in the news I felt that the work Dr. Mukwege has been doing since 1999 continues to need to be brought to the attention of all of us.

Dr. Mukwege is the son of a Pentecostal minister who decided early on that he wanted to heal the suffering he saw around him, not only through prayer but through medicine. After studying in France to become an OB-GYN, he returned home to treat women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR) who had no access to maternity care.

In 1999 Dr Mukwege founded the Panzi hospital in Bukavu, Congo to treat women and girls who had traumatic injuries due to inadequate medical care in childbirth.

Over the years Dr Mukwege and Panzi became the only hope for thousands of women and girls whose lives had been ruined by a condition called fistula, which is a tearing in the vaginal wall which, when unrepaired, leaves women incontinent, leaking urine and at times feces through the tears in the vaginal wall. The foul smell and embarrassment this condition creates can literally ruin the lives of these women and girls. They are often forced to live apart from their communities and are divorced by their husbands.

It would be enough to honor Dr Mukwege for this work alone but the fact is, he and the Panzi Hospital he founded have become even more important. In the ongoing conflict in the DCR, soldiers on all sides have used the systematic rape and sexual brutalization of women and girls of all ages to create terror in their enemies.

These women are not just the victims of simple rape (if we could ever say there is such a thing) but have been repeatedly gang raped and often assaulted with wood pieces, guns and bayonets.

When and if these horribly abused women find their way to Panzi Hospital, they find in Dr. Mukwege someone who works 18 hour days, often performing up to ten operations in a single day to try to repair their wounds.

But they also find in this man endless kindness in face of horror, compassionate hope in the face of despair and deep respect where dignity has been strategically destroyed.

Over the last 12 years over 21,000 patients of rape and sexual assault have been treated at Panzi Hospital . With no end in site to the war in Congo more women and girls, from school age to grandmother, arrive every day to receive the vital surgery and comfort that Dr. Mukwege offers.

If you would like to read more about Dr. Mukwege and the Panzi hospital please visit:

www.africanloft.com/an-african-hero-dr-denis

http://www.panzihospitalbukavu.org/drmukwege.php?weblang=1

http://engenderhealthblog.blogspot.com/2009/02/dr-denis-mukwege-finding-hope-where.html

http://www.msmagazine.com/spring2005/congo.asp

(If your browser does not automatically go to these sites, copy and paste the url into your browser.)

You can also help by going to www.vday.org to find out more about Eve Ensler’s work to build the CITY OF JOY. This will be a special facility built next to Panzi that will house 100 women at a time. It will provide the vital trauma counseling and educational training and support to allow these courageous women to rebuild their lives and help others do the same.


-Arlene Shulman