FIGO Fistula Fellows in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The FIGO Fistula Surgery Training Initiative is a globally recognised programme delivering training and education to more than 65 trainee fistula surgeons – ‘FIGO Fellows’ – and multidisciplinary teams from some of the world’s most underserved regions. Five of these Fellows are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Dr Kenny Raha in Bukavu; Dr Dieudonne Boengandi, temporarily in Central African Republic but usually in Bukavu; Dr Claude Idring'i Malasi in Bunia; Dr Benjamin Kambale Kalole in Goma; and Dr Lucien Wasingya Kasereka in Kinshasa.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa with a population of more than 100 million, and many of whom live in rural areas. The country has suffered a long history of ongoing conflict, with a legacy of widespread sexual violence towards women and girls, as well as an inadequate healthcare system and infrastructure. These factors have contributed to the high maternal mortality and morbidity rate in the country, and a correspondingly high incidence of obstetric fistula, as well as traumatic fistula cases. The five FIGO Fellows in the DRC are therefore doing vital work to help the large number of women needing fistula treatment and to prevent further women from suffering with this devastating condition.
Panzi Hospital, Bukavu
FIGO has two fistula Fellows working for Panzi Hospital, a general referral hospital founded in 1999 to relieve the suffering of women. Its founder is Dr Denis Mukwege, a world-renowned gynaecological surgeon and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Operating in a context of instability following the recurring wars in the east of the country, the hospital is a centre of excellence, specialising in the care of women and girl survivors of rape and sexual violence.
Panzi Hospital receives patients from across the DRC, as well as other countries in the Great Lakes region (Rwanda, Burundi). It additionally organises annual surgical outreach missions in provinces throughout the country, to bring Panzi Hospital's medical expertise to patients unable to access fistula care. During these outreach missions, Panzi Hospital also raises awareness about fistula in the community and trains local health professionals to improve maternal and child health care.
FIGO Fellow Dr Kenny Raha is a gynaecologist-obstetrician and fistula surgeon at Panzi Hospital, doing fistula and prolapse surgery on a daily basis, as well as surgical outreach trips to other parts of the DRC.
FIGO Fellow Dr Dieudonne Boengandi also works for Panzi Hospital, but is currently based in Bangui, Central African Republic. On behalf of Panzi Hospital, he is training hospital staff in Bangui to care for victims of sexual and gender-based violence, including women with fistula incurred as a result of obstructed labour or sexual violence.
Earlier this year, we interviewed Dr Boengandi about his work and he told us:
“I was inspired to become a fistula surgeon because in the Oriental Province (Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo), where I completed my studies and began practicing, there were many fistula cases referred to us, but unfortunately no one had the expertise to help the women. That is why I decided to learn about fistula surgery.
For me, being a FIGO Fellow means that I can improve my skills in fistula management, thanks to the FIGO team that accompanies me in my training and provides me with the necessary tools for my work. It is a great opportunity for me.”
Fistula surgery during a global pandemic in Bunia
Another FIGO Fellow working in the DRC is Dr Claude Idring'i Malasi who works in Bunia, at both Rwankole Hospital and Bunia General Hospital. Dr Claude has managed to carry out 89 fistula repairs this year, despite the challenges brought about by the global COVID pandemic. Panzi Hospital intermittently sends fistula surgeons to Rwankole Hospital to help Dr Claude with the most complex fistula repairs, although this has so far not been possible in 2020 because of the pandemic.
To help Dr Claude’s hospitals respond to the COVID pandemic, the FIGO Fistula Initiative recently supported Dr Claude to obtain needed PPE and cleaning products. He told us “the funds recently sent by FIGO were so useful for us. This allowed us to buy some PPE, facial masks, hand washing products, etc. So we have been performing fistula surgery continuously in spite of the pandemic, and implementing protective measures.”
FIGO fistula Fellows throughout the DRC
Two further fistula Fellows are operating in other parts of the DRC. Dr Benjamin Kambale Kalole is a FIGO Fellow and gynaecologist working for HEAL Africa Hospital in Goma, a city in the east of the country. One of the newest FIGO Fellows, Dr Lucien Wasingya Kasereka, who has spent the last 6 years working as a fistula surgeon in Kitovu Hospital, Uganda, has recently moved to the capital, Kinshasa, where he plans to continue doing fistula surgery back in his home country.
We are so pleased to have five fantastic fistula surgeons working in the DRC, helping some of the most marginalised and neglected women to rebuild their lives. Grateful thanks to Drs Kenny, Dieudonne, Claude, Benjamin and Lucien for their dedication and commitment to this truly life-changing work.