A Day at Panzi Hospital

Dr. Mukwege returned to work at the hospital today after arriving from NYC last night. I honestly don’t know how he does it! He was very pleased with his trip and all that transpired at the Nobel Women Initiative, Clinton Global Initiative, and at the Stop Rape Campaign event at the UN. He even managed to get much needed and deserved rest for a couple of days at a retreat center outside NYC.

Now it’s back to work as he quickly resumes checking up on patients, conferring with other doctors, checking in with staff, receiving various delegations and visitors, and still stopping to chat with women waiting in the hallways. In the office next to his, where 4 of us work on our laptops, it’s Grand Central Station with people in and out either to have receipts stamped, or to see if there’s a wifi signal (a constant issue!), or to work with Lisa on the cervical cancer screening project, or to meet with Vincent on his advocacy project proposal, or to ask me questions about Panzi Foundation USA. There’s a big paper calendar someone made, taped to the wall now, to identify Dr. Mukwege’s trips so staff have a better idea of his schedule. None of the staff seem to take time to eat, but Lisa and I put an end to that – albeit meagerly. The four of us share peanuts and bananas throughout the day, there’s instant coffee available, and sometimes we go across the road to Hallelujah’s little shop to buy Fantas.

Just to provide some context…….the hospital employs 369 people, which includes 30 doctors and 87 nurses in addition to pharmacists, lab technicians, ambulance drivers, and psychologists, among others.

In 2011, 2,571 women were admitted into the victims of sexual violence assistance program at the hospital. Of these, 181 women required treatment for a fistula. Of those, 2 were a result of sexual violence (traumatic fistula) while the others were pregnancy and/or child birth (obstetric fistula). This is an important distinction as too often these numbers are conflated or confused, and the rates of traumatic fistula are often exaggerated by journalists, activists, and aid organizations for self-serving ends. More on this topic in a future blog….

On any given day, you can walk down to the lower part of the hospital where there are over 300 women who are survivors of sexual violence. They are all in various stages of treatment or waiting to be released and transported back to their villages – if they have not been rejected by husbands or family due to their attack. The stigma of sexual violence is powerful and for many women, they now have nowhere else to go.

This is where PFUSA serves an important role in the work of the hospital as we help develop and support programs at Maison Dorcas, a transit facility where women can live up to 6 months after they are released from the hospital. In the past, women and their children have lived at two small houses in the neighborhood by the hospital. But now, a new building is under construction that will house approximately 120 women and their 200-300 children. There will be classroom space for the current literacy classes as well as sewing, embroidery, and soap making. The task of PFUSA, per the request and vision of Dr. Mukwege, is to significantly expand the trainings offered and expand Panzi’s reach into the local community. It’s exciting to imagine the possibilities of a workforce training center, for example, and small factories, computer classes, and outreach programs in the local community that address topics such as women’s rights, nutrition, or how to fight corruption. Stay tuned!

About Lee Ann De Reus

Executive Director, DV LEAP; Co-founder, Panzi Foundation USA
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