In April, Dr. Denis Mukwege was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people, honored for his work with survivors of wartime rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The article, written by Dr. Jill Biden—wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and a lifelong educator—describes him thus: “With a towering presence, a disarming smile, and a soft, soothing voice, he is a source of strength and sanctuary in a land of violence and despair—a forgotten war.” A link to the full article appears below.
Healing the survivors of wartime rape
It was here in his home country that Dr. Mukwege founded Panzi Hospital in 1999, in an effort to confront insufficient medical care and overwhelming injuries faced by women in DRC. Located in Bukavu in eastern DRC, the 400-bed hospital quickly became renowned for its services to internally displaced persons and survivors of sexual violence, gaining international recognition for bravely treating women who had suffered so grievously.
This powerful story from Time, written by Aryn Baker and published in March, discusses the horrors that women and girls have faced in conflicts in DRC and South Sudan, and details Panzi Hospital’s work with survivors of sexual violence:
First they shot her husband. Then the soldiers killed her two sons, ages 5 and 7. When the uniformed men yanked her daughter from her hands next, Mary didn’t think it could get any worse.
Dr. Mukwege was one of our first partners in 2009 when Fistula Foundation adopted a global mission. Through this long-standing partnership, Panzi Hospital has developed a sustainable, robust fistula treatment program, including training for surgeons and nurses; funding for patient transportation, meals, and lodging; and support for the hospital’s efforts to raise awareness of fistula in remote communities, helping more women get treated who otherwise would go without. Today, countless women suffering from fistula have received free surgery and medical care thanks to this partnership.
In a video interview celebrating his Time 100 honor with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Dr. Mukwege discusses his work as a fistula surgeon in eastern DRC. Over the years, he has faced threats, survived an assassination attempt, and admits that it’s difficult seeing the trauma these women—and even very young children—have been through. Asked what keeps him going, day after day, he said: “I treat women who are very strong. And sometimes I’m asking myself how they can stand up again after [going] through all these terrible things, but they are able to stand up. And not only stand up for their rights, but stand up for the rights of their children, stand up for the rights of the community. He added, “I have this impression that I’m very small, if I can compare to these women who are very strong.”