Dr. Denis Mukwege is one of the world’s leading experts in one of the world’s most horrific medical conditions: traumatic fistula in women. Since 1999 when Dr. Mukwege founded the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, a town in war-ravaged southern Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he has treated more than 21,000 women whose crippling gynecological injuries are a result of grotesque sexual violence.
Twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Mukwege is one of the only gynecologists practicing in the Eastern Congo, and his 334-bed hospital is filled with 3,000 women every year in desperate search of healing. They stagger in to Panzi Hospital with their children, often abandoned by their husbands for the shame and degradation of having been raped, and sometimes pregnant with their rapist’s child. In spite of his pioneering work in healing their injuries, Dr. Mukwege routinely faces a daunting shortage of medical supplies, while the number of suffering women only seems to multiply.
Yet the fact that fistula exists at all today (and it only occurs in the developing world) is a worldwide shame. Highly preventable with good medical care and often treatable by surgery, fistula is a direct result of poverty or a staggering indifference to suffering. A fistula is a hole that occurs between a woman’s vagina and her internal organs, such as the bladder or rectum, producing incontinence that causes relentless leaking of urine and feces. Some of the 100,000 annual global cases of fistula occur as a consequence of poverty-related birthing conditions (like unsafe, unattended labor and delivery) but the majority of fistula cases in the DRC come as a result of savagely violent rape.
Called “the worst place in the world to be a woman,” the DRC has been embroiled in war for 14 years, a conflict that is the longest in world history and has claimed more lives than the Holocaust – well over 6 million at this point. Yet the world has largely turned a blind eye to the carnage. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has written “it is the world capital of rape, torture and mutilation,” with the battle for power in the Eastern Congo most often played out upon women’s bodies.
Yet the situation is not hopeless. We can raise our awareness and our voices in protest. We can advocate for an end to the illicit trade in minerals that fund the conflict, through efforts like the Enough Project. And we can send donations to the newly formed Panzi Hospital Foundation here in the United States that is raising money on behalf of Dr. Mukwege to expand Maison Dorcas, a transitional home in Bukavu where women after surgery can recover, receive counseling, and learn a self-supporting trade and education. It’s not enough — but it is something; Please click here to join me!
What Gives News Flash!
One of (14) 40-foot containers that MedShare (see post on 7/14) shipped out last month, packed with medical and surgical supplies, is headed for the Panzi Hospital in the DRC. The container will travel thousands of miles overland under armed guard to deliver these supplies to Dr. Mukwege. It’s a hugely complex challenge to get critically needed aid to this war-torn region – you gotta love MedShare!