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Story from the Front Lines: The Shame of “Honor”

The ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo 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 Dr. Denis Mukwege is helping to bring hope there 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 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 more than 500 fistula repair surgeries were performed from 2006 to September 2008.

Dr. Mukwege is all too familiar with the complex situation in the Congo. Growing up there, he knew that 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 by 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, assists in training doctors and nurses in obstetric care and helps Panzi Hospital continue its work in fistula repair in the region.