Dr Denis Mukwege: Brave healer of DRC's most horrific wounds

accreditation
Dr Denis Mukwege (File: AFP)
Dr Denis Mukwege (File: AFP)

In Democratic Republic of Congo, they call him "Doctor Miracle" for his surgical skill and dedication in helping women overcome the injuries and trauma of sexual abuse and rape.

Denis Mukwege is a crusading gynaecologist who has spent more than two decades treating appalling injuries inflicted on women in DRC and his work was the subject of an acclaimed 2015 film titled: "The Man Who Mends Women."

A father of five, the tireless 63-year-old is an outspoken critic of the abuse of women in war and has repeatedly accused the world of failing to act.

The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize co-winner had been repeatedly nominated for his work with gang rape victims from the conflicts that have ravaged his homeland.

"Denis Mukwege is the foremost, most unifying symbol, both nationally and internationally, of the struggle to end sexual violence in war and armed conflicts," Nobel committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen said in unveiling the winners in Oslo.

* Sign up to News24's top Africa news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO THE HELLO AFRICA NEWSLETTER

FOLLOW News24 Africa on Twitter and Facebook

"His basic principle is that 'justice is everyone's business'."

Mukwege has called on the world to take a tougher line on rape as a weapon of war.

"We have been able to draw a red line against chemical weapons, biological weapons and nuclear arms," he told AFP in 2016.

"Today we must also draw a red line against rape as a weapon of war," he said, describing it as a "cheap and efficient" form of terror which condemns its victims to "a life sentence".

In his French autobiography, "Plaidoyer pour la vie" ("Plea for Life"), Mukwege recounts the "depths of horror" he encountered in his native South Kivu province that led him to set up the Panzi hospital in Bukavu.

He began working at Lemera hospital, south of Bukavu, which was where he first learnt to deal with severe post-natal lesions that left women incontinent for life.

Later he encountered victims of horrific rapes for the first time.

'Common humanity'

Recalling the moment he saw such a patient for the first time in 1999 -- the year he set up Panzi hospital -- Mukwege recounted how the rapists had inserted a gun into a woman's genitals and fired.

"Her whole pelvis was destroyed. I thought it was the work of a madman, but the same year I treated 45 similar cases," he said.

"For 15 years I have witnessed mass atrocities committed against women's bodies and I cannot remain with my arms folded because our common humanity calls on us to care for each other."

His work has also put his own life on the line, with Mukwege narrowly escaping an attack on his life in October 2012, in which his guard was killed.

At the Bukavu hospital, which serves as a clinic for gynaecological and obstetric care, he lives under the permanent protection of UN peacekeepers.

'Unbearable atrocities'

Aid agencies have accused all sides in the conflicts that have ravaged the eastern regions of North Kivu and South Kivu of using "systematic rape" against women as a weapon of war.

In 2016, Mukwege said there were "unbearable atrocities" being committed in the country's east, including the mutilation of babies and the disembowelling of pregnant women.

He said the "crimes and cruelties that have plagued eastern DRC for 20 years had been reborn with a new intensity", as he criticised growing authoritarianism in the country.

Earlier this year, he told AFP there had been a rise in such attacks since 2016, with the majority of sexual violence in South Kivu now committed by civilians and not by armed groups or the security forces.

Many civilians are former rebels.

The 450-bed Panzi hospital that Mukwege founded treats more than 3,500 women a year, though not all for sexual abuse, providing free consultations and performing reconstructive surgery on women who have suffered serious internal injuries.

Levi Luhiriri, who works as a doctor at the hospital, said Mukwege was fair but tough and strived for internationally-recognised standards.

"He is straight and just but doesn't tolerate mediocrity," he told AFP.

As well as his tireless medical work, Mukwege has fronted a worldwide campaign against trade in conflict diamonds.

Many awards

Born on March 1, 1955, in Bukavu, the third of nine children, Mukwege was inspired to become a doctor by his father, a pastor who used to visit the sick.

After studying medicine in neighbouring Burundi, he returned to work in Lemera hospital before pursuing specialist training in gynaecology in France.

He has been honoured previously by the United Nations and has received many other international awards, including the Olof Palme Prize in January 2009 and the Sakharov Prize in 2014. In September 2016, he also won the Seoul Peace Prize.

He was appointed a professor at the Universite libre de Bruxelles in Belgium in 2015.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
Facebook is facing a fresh crisis after a former employee turned whistle-blower leaked internal company research. Do you still use Facebook?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes, the benefits outweigh the risk for me
32% - 2192 votes
No, I have deleted it
38% - 2603 votes
Yes, but I am considering deleting it
30% - 2086 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
14.76
-1.0%
Rand - Pound
20.26
-0.7%
Rand - Euro
17.11
-0.9%
Rand - Aus dollar
10.90
-0.6%
Rand - Yen
0.13
-0.8%
Gold
1,762.25
-0.3%
Silver
23.22
-0.4%
Palladium
2,022.50
-2.6%
Platinum
1,045.36
-1.3%
Brent Crude
84.86
+1.0%
Top 40
60,457
-0.1%
All Share
67,039
+0.0%
Resource 10
64,554
+0.3%
Industrial 25
84,254
-0.7%
Financial 15
14,076
+0.8%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE