Denis Mukwege was born on March 1, 1955 to a Pastor and his wife. He developed at an early age the desire to become a doctor and help others. He studied medicine and began his career in a hospital in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu. Then, he studied in France for several years before returning to the Democratic Republic of Congo and becoming the Director of the Lemera Hospital.
During the First Congo War (November 1996 – May 1997), Denis Mukwege decided to flee to Kenya to escape the violence. He returned to DRC in 1999 to found the Panzi hospital in collaboration with a Swedish NGO (Pingstmissionens Utvecklingssamarbete). Because of recurring tensions in Kivu and neighboring regions, Denis Mukwege often found himself treating women who had been victims of the planned and deliberate destruction of their reproductive organs. This is one of the reasons that led him to treat this particularly terrifying violation of fundamental human rights.
Denis Mukwege has created a specialized care unit for female victims of sexual violence. They are provided with care and free counseling. In the provinces of North and South Kivu, rape has become a weapon of war over the years, used by various armed groups. Confronted with the large number of victims arriving in his service, Denis Mukwege also implemented a training program for nurses and doctors, which is specifically dedicated to vaginal reconstruction and the care of these patients.
He is also an impassioned advocate of women’s rights and often travels around the world to raise awareness among policy makers and international opinion about the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He does not hesitate to publicly and directly accuse the region’s political leaders, both in the Congo and the neighbouring countries.
Denis Mukwege and his family have been repeatedly attacked. In 1996, he narrowly escaped death during an attack on the Lemera hospital in which several patients and hospital employees were killed. On October 25, 2011, individuals entered his home by infraction and threatened him. An employee tried to intervene and was killed with a bullet through his head. The neighbours banded together and forced the assailants to flee, saving Denis Mukwege and his family.
After a few months of exile in Europe, Mukwege returned to the DRC in March 2013. On March 12, 2013 in Kinshasa, he stated “I have not returned to the DRC to be a martyr, I have come back to work. We live in the hospital, but we do not feel safe.”