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Standing With Our Courageous and Visionary Colleagues in the DRC

by Coleen Kivlahan, MD, MSPH on October 26, 2012

It has been less than two weeks since our return from Bukavu, DRC, and now Dr. Denis Mukwege and his family have been the targets of armed violence while defending the rights of victims of sexual violence in the region. Dr. Mukwege, Panzi Hospital's administrative, clinical, and spiritual leader, was recently the host of a PHR team committed to supporting advanced training for multidisciplinary professionals in the investigation and documentation of sexual violence.

The courage and vision of our DRC colleagues are beyond most Americans' comprehension. Daily, the doctors, nurses, police, judges, and prosecutors face victims who have been raped, injured, and tortured. With minimal resources, they provide care for the victims — usually without adequate basic medications or rape kits, without computers or cameras, without sufficient electricity or supplies. Yet, the stream of victims with endless needs is long and continuous.

Our doctor and nurse colleagues are heroes, providing medical care under threatening circumstances and with limited equipment. Our police colleagues are heroes, leading complex investigations, fighting corruption, and championing justice. Our civil and criminal judge and prosecution colleagues are leaders, asking the hard questions, developing cases with hard evidence that can lead to success, and standing up to impunity.

Our week-long training was rich in dialogue and content, and we left a network of professionals committed to improving the outcomes of their daily work. 

At the heart of that network stands Dr. Mukwege. He is the model of an outspoken advocate for victims' rights and the security and development of women throughout Congo. He is doing just what his calling as a medical professional demands, including becoming a voice for his patients.

The members of the PHR Network Against Sexual Violence have joined his voice and are equally committed to this cause. The strength that we all felt in our united stand to improve the science, treatment, evidence, and prosecution of these crimes was palpable. The violence that has impacted Dr. Mukwege and his loved ones will not threaten or reduce our commitment. Our outrage at this cowardly act will only serve to strengthen our resolve.

Eastern DRC is ready to advance its commitment to human rights through these brave professionals. We must stand at their side, condemning this and other threats to the goal of equal rights and care for all victims.



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