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Gynecologist who aids Congo rape victims is chosen 'African of the Year'

Page history last edited by Rosemary 11 years, 6 months ago

Media Trust launches African of the Year Award

Congolese doctor, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist whose Panzi Specialist Hospital specializes in reconstructive surgeries for victims of rape in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, has been selected as the African of the Year for 2008. The award presentation by the Media Trust was held in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on January 13, 2009, and marked the end of a selection process that began in 2008.

The advisory committee that selected the award winner was chaired by Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, a distinguished African political leader and diplomat whose service has included being Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity and Prime Minister of Tanzania.

The Media Trust blog noted that, according to the United Nations, 27,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2006 in South Kivu Province alone, and that may be just a fraction of the total number across the country. The justice system and the military still barely function, and United Nations officials say Congolese government troops are among the worst offenders when it comes to rape. Large swaths of the country, especially in the east, remain authority-free zones where civilians are at the mercy of heavily armed groups who have made warfare a livelihood and survive by raiding villages and abducting women for ransom. It is in this environment that Dr. Denis has had to keep up his practice. His continued efforts at putting these women back together physically and mentally is what has, above everything else, made it impossible not to acknowledge him as the Daily Trust African of the Year for 2008.

When Dr. Mukwege was young, he accompanied his father on his pastoral visits. After his baccalaureate, he studied medicine in Burundi, then worked at the Christian hospital of Lemera in South-Kivu DR Congo, where he was shocked to realize how difficult childbirth was for rural women. He saw many women brought to the hospital by donkey after having bled out from their difficulty during childbirth at home, or who came to die in the hospital after labouring unsuccessfully for hours. The surviving patients left with serious genital lesions. He decided to study gynaecology/obstetrics at the CHU of Angers in France.

In 1989, Dr. Mukwege settled at the Hospital of Lemera, where he trained support staff and created a gynaecology/obstetrics service that became well known in the area and beyond the country's borders. Unfortunately the hospital was completely destroyed during the first civil war of Congo in 1996. As a survivor from Lemera, Dr. Mukwege settled in Bukavu, where he created a maternity ward with an operating room at Panzi, to help women in childbirth. However, he quickly saw that the women victims of sexual violence were numerous and their numbers were rising. Thus the idea was born to create services specialized for the assumption of responsibility of women victims of sexual violence. Currently, according to the hospital's website, this service receives on average 10 women per day and 30% of those will undergo a major surgery. The task becoming increasingly difficult, and Dr. Mukwege is working on training the nurses, obstetricians and doctors in collaboration with international experts of Fistula Hospital of Addis Ababa on the surgery of vaginal rebuilding.

The Daily Trust African of the Year award was created to recognize the contributions of Africans, both at home and in the diaspora, on the life of Africans and to encourage dialogue among Africans about Africa that will help institute standards by which both leaders and ordinary people on the continent alike will be measured and that will promote understanding and enlightenment. The award is given to the one African who has made the most impact on Africans in the past year (in this case, 2008).

The information about Dr. Mukwege is adapted from biographical information provided on the Panzi Hospital website. More information about Dr. Mukwege can be found in the special supplement issued by the Media Trust. The story of the award's creation was told by Mallam Kabiru A. Yusuf, chairman and CEO of Media Trust Ltd., in his speech at the award. The picture of Dr. Mukwege comes from the Panzi Hospital website.

Also see Healing Rape Survivors in the Congo, Utne Reader, March/April 2010, which reports on a story that appeared in The Progressive in November 2009.


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