Holistic care for survivors of sexual violence

With 20 years of experience, Panzi Hospital and Panzi Foundation DRC serve as a centre of excellence in treating victims of conflict-related sexual violence in eastern DRC.

Panzi General Referral Hospital was founded by Dr Mukwege in 1999, originally established to offer quality maternal and reproductive healthcare. However, in response to the devastating war in eastern DRC, and the high levels of conflict-related sexual violence, the hospital soon became the epicentre of care for victims of sexual violence. Since then, Panzi Hospital has treated tens of thousands of victims of sexual violence.

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In order to heal, victims need care that deals with all of the interconnected consequences of sexual violence — medical, psychological, legal and socio-economic. Dr Mukwege and his team developed a model of holistic care, integrated in a one-stop-centre within the general hospital, with coherent referrals & co-ordination between services. Each survivor of sexual violence has a social assistant assigned to him or her from the start. Together they design a tailor-made healing pathway that includes:

• Medical care and the treatment of severe gynaecological injuries, which may include surgery

• Psychological care through one-to-one support, group counselling and other forms of therapy

• Legal assistance including judicial counselling, accompaniment throughout the judicial process and other forms of legal advocacy

• Socio-economic assistance to survivors such as literacy training, small business management and microcredit programmes.

Learn more about the doctor exchange program in CAR

The need for comprehensive holistic care is supported by UN Resolution 2106 (2013) which: “recognising the importance of providing timely assistance to survivors of sexual violence, urges UN entities and donors to provide non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, including sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial, legal and livelihood support and other multi-sectoral services for survivors of sexual violence, taking into account the specific needs of persons with disabilities.” 

The concept of integrated service delivery in a one-stop-centre is recognised by the UN and the WHO as a model of good practice. Nevertheless, this model is exceptional, especially in humanitarian settings where services for victims are usually provided by different NGOs via separate programmes.

We believe that this type of integrated, holistic care needs to be accessible to all victims of sexual violence in conflict settings.

The Panzi model is inspiring and unique because of its central ethos of compassion, confidentiality, respect and self-determination. It treats every survivor who seeks care as a dignified person with value, rights, will, and capabilities. Survivors are treated with the utmost respect and are supported to maintain control of their recovery pathway, an important aspect in the recovery from trauma.We work with local partners who are trusted by survivors and their communities, who share our vision of compassionate care and a willingness to learn from one another. We organise training and knowledge exchanges, adapt and translate training materials to different contexts, and evaluate projects to build an evidence base and share lessons learned internationally.

Our work to support survivor-led networks nationally means that holistic services can be firmly rooted in survivors’ experiences, giving them the chance to shape service delivery and advocate for their needs.

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