Page last updated at 11:57 GMT, Wednesday, 14 January 2009

DR Congo doctor is 'top African'

Dr Denis Mukwege
Denis Mukwege hopes his award will highlight Congolese women's plight

A doctor from the Democratic Republic of Congo who treats women raped by combatants in the war-torn country has been named "African of the Year".

Denis Mukwege, 53, who runs a clinic in Bukavu, has said all sides have "declared women their common enemy".

He says his award from the Nigerian Daily Trust paper of $20,000 (13,700) will be used to fund a centre to help rape victims rejoin society.

His clinic receives an average of 10 new patients every day.

Women in DR Congo are often raped and subjected to terrible violence by armed men as part of the decade-old conflict.

The Panzi hospital helps women with the physical and psychological injuries after being attacked.

It also provides help for women who have contracted HIV/Aids from their attackers.

A third of patents undergo major surgery.


This is the first African of the Year Award, given by Nigerian newspaper the Daily Trust.

This is a person who has been involved in the protection of women under difficult circumstances, often at the risk of his own life
Judge Salim Ahmed Salim

"I am pleased to accept this award if it will highlight the situation of women in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo," Dr Mukwege told the BBC French service after accepting the award at a ceremony in Nigeria's capital, Abuja.

The head of the selection panel was Salim Ahmed Salim, former prime minister of Tanzania and former general secretary of the Organisation of African Unity.

"This is a person who has been involved in the protection of women under difficult circumstances, often at the risk of his own life," Mr Salim told the BBC.

Earlier this month Dr Mukwege was awarded the Olof Palme prize, awarded for outstanding achievement in promoting peace.

As a child Dr Mukwege would accompany his father, a Pentecostal minister, on his visits to hospital to pray for patients.

He decided he wanted to become a doctor to help people with more than just prayer.

While working at a hospital he was appalled by the number of women who were dying in childbirth.

He went to France to study gynaecology, and returned to set up a clinic in Lemera, South Kivu in the east of the country.

The hospital was destroyed in 1996, during the civil war.

Almost as soon as a new clinic in Bukavu opened, it became obvious to Dr Mukwege there was a special need for a clinic that dealt with victims of sexual violence.

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