Democratic Republic of Congo

Doctors of the World has been active in the DRC since 1994, when we first began emergency interventions in response to widespread conflict and displacement.

Today our focus is on providing access to sexual & reproductive care to young people and survivors of sexual violence

The Democratic Republic of Congo is 4 times the size of France, has a population of over 77 million people, and 61% of the population is under 20 years old. The DRC’s vastness and complexity presents huge challenges in the universal provision of medical care. Our teams work to improve the access to quality sexual and reproductive health services for young people in the city of Kinshasa and sexual assault survivors in Bukavu, where we are partnered with Dr. Denis Mukwege and the Panzi Hospital. 

The large majority of the DRC’s population cannot afford healthcare or live in areas where health infrastructure is extremely weak. Sexual violence is extremely prevalent in the country, and has been used as a weapon of war for decades. It is often very difficult for a survivor of sexual violence to receive the appropriate medical care they need. 

In addition, procedures such as abortions are illegal in all but a few cases and often severely frowned upon. This leads many young women who experience unwanted pregnancies to seek out dangerous abortions that can leave them in hospital and even kill them. 

 

By working with local communities, we aim to reduce the stigma around sexual and reproductive healthcare for young people

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In Kinshasa, nearly 50% of pregnancies are unwanted and 25% of young girls become pregnant before the age of 19. It is illegal for minors to purchase contraception without the consent of a guardian, which means that many young people engage in unprotected sex. This leaves them at the risk of having unplanned pregnancies or even contracting diseases such as HIV.

Sex outside of marriage is frowned upon by Congolese society, and girls with unplanned pregnancies often become marginalized. By working with local communities, we aim to reduce the stigma around sexual and reproductive healthcare for young people. We want to ensure that they can receive information on contraceptives, safe sex and family planning to help them make informed decisions on their reproductive health. 

“If you dare abort, you’ll die!” A nurse told Merlyne when she became pregnant in her teens 

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As a result, Merlyne (pictured left) went on to have a baby for whom neither she nor her partner were ready. Merlyne often worries that she and her baby are now an extra financial burden on her parents. Our teams work in Kinshasa to support adolescent girls like Merlyne and to provide them with information about their sexual and reproductive health.

We aim to remove the barriers that young people often face when trying to access care, to reinforce the capacity of the local health services and to reduce the stigma associated with sexual education for young people. We operate in 14 different primary health centers and 5 hospitals in 5 health zones within Kinshasa. 

In addition to our work in Kinshasa, since 2015 Doctors of the World has partnered with Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, South Kivu. 

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Panzi Hospital was established in 1999 and runs an award-winning program for survivors of sexual violence, which is widespread across the country and often goes unpunished. The program provides patients with physical care, psychological support and assistance with reintegrating into society. Doctors of the World Belgium has been working to strengthen and increase the capacity of the program since 2015.

Most of the patients we see are women, but children and men are also admitted into the program. Panzi Hospital’s manager, Dr. Denis Mukwege, has been bestowed numerous awards for his work, including a Noble Peace Prize, for his work to treat and prevent sexual violence in the DRC. 

Dr. Denis Mukwege, Nobel Peace Prize Winner 2018

When Dr. Mukwege received news that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he was in the surgery block, operating on a victim of sexual violence.

Even winning a Nobel prize did not distract him from his number one priority – healing and protecting survivors of sexual violence. To date, Dr. Mukwege and the Panzi hospital have treated and changed the lives of over 50,000 people.

Support Our Work

You can provide lifesaving sexual and reproductive healthcare to sexual violence survivors in the Democratic Republic of Congo.