MAF creates safe passage in the DRC for women traumatised by war

Published: 4 Jan 2021

MAF provides quick and safe passage to Panzi Hospital for women who have endured horrific sexual violence

As another former rebel leader from the DRC is arrested for ‘crimes against humanity’ including mass rape, survivors of sexual violence continue to seek treatment. Despite war-torn infrastructure, MAF has set up a travel corridor between Panzi Hospital and remote villages, enabling these women to get the help that they desperately need…       

Earlier this month, Roger Lumbala – the former head of armed group ‘RCD-N’ – was the latest suspect to be charged with atrocious acts between 1998 and 2002 during the Democratic Republic of Congo’s last war (The Guardian).

DRC –‘rape capital of the world’

Rape was weaponised in the DRC’s wars to destroy families, which are the fabric of society. Often, it’s the woman who holds the family together, puts food on the table and gets her children to school. Many of these women have been brutally raped in front of their husbands and children to add to their humiliation. This form of warfare is particularly devastating. 

Sexual violence in the DRC remains prevalent today and post-natal complications following rape are also rife. The UN calls this country the ‘rape capital of the world’. According to a World Bank study, as many as 1.8 million women in the DRC have been raped. It’s estimated that 12% of the female population have been raped at least once – that’s 48 women raped every hour.

‘I lost everything - my family, friends and village. Dr Mukwege took me under his wing and supported me like a father. Here at Panzi, we call him “Papa"'

Justine – survivor and Panzi Hospital patient

Many women from remote areas walk for weeks to get treatment at Panzi Hospital

‘Women walk for over a month to get help’ 

MAF partner and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Dr Denis Mukwege, is one of the very few gynaecologists working in a country of 87 million people. He set up Panzi Hospital in the eastern DRC city of Bukavu, twenty years ago. Each year, the hospital cares for around 3,500 women. Over the years, Dr Mukwege has treated tens of thousands of patients, performing up to 10 operations a day.

Patients inside Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo

 Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo

The DRC’s infrastructure is among the worst in the world - roads are damaged and muddy with deep holes. With a lack of affordable transport, injured women from remote jungle areas have often walked miles to Panzi Hospital to get treatment, as Dr Mukwege explains: 

‘Some women walk for over a month to get help at Bukavu. Their legs are damaged by the time they get here.’

Last September marked the end of such hardship. Thanks to an exciting joint initiative between MAF and Panzi Hospital, a travel corridor was established, enabling MAF’s planes to overcome the challenges of local infrastructure.

A survivor is carefully strapped into an MAF plane by pilot, Andrew Parker, en route to Panzi Hospital in Bukavu

MAF now transport Panzi medics to isolated villages to carry out surgery and care for the women. Those who are badly injured are flown back to Panzi Hospital for further treatment.

Dr Mukwege says that this new flight programme between Panzi Hospital and the remote villages has made all the difference to the women seeking treatment:

‘MAF’s air bridge makes their journey simple and pain-free.’

MAF flies Panzi Hospital’s medical team to Yakoma near the Central African Republic border where they carried out 11 restorative operations

Restoring dignity and hope

Tragically, horrific violation is not the only injustice that these women endure. Having survived sexual violence, they are often stigmatised and rejected by their own family and friends. They are forced to live in shame. As a result, Dr Mukwege and his team also provide aftercare and hope for the women at his affiliated ‘Maison Dorcas Community Centre’: 

‘An operation is one thing, but rehabilitation and recovery also require trauma treatment, group therapy and relationship building. Women who come to Panzi Hospital are given the opportunity to develop their skills. 

Our school offers training as hairdressers or tailors or they can learn a new language or computer skills. This is important for building up their self-respect and provides opportunities for a better future.’

Dr Denis Mukwege

Dr Mukwege recognises the role MAF plays in the recovery of these women. He is thankful for MAF’s ongoing support:

‘Having MAF at Bukavu is a miracle – it’s truly an answer from God for the women in Congo who are going through inconceivable suffering.’

This is not the first time that Dr Mukwege has referred to MAF as a ‘miracle’. In 1996, when the DRC’s first war broke out, Dr Mukwege and his family’s lives were in danger. MAF evacuated them to safety.