As we settled into a long day of cooking, feasting and football watching, half a world away our partners at HEAL Africa Hospital in Goma, Congo confronted a very different reality. Reports from HEAL are of an overflowing emergency room, jammed with the victims of the takeover of Goma by M23 rebel forces. Of the 50 horrendously wounded and mutilated victims, nearly half are women and children, including pregnant women.
HEAL medical staff sent me a picture which I won't forward of a naked pregnant woman in the last trimester in shock, with a mutilated arm; another women was shot in the chest. While the UN "peacekeepers" may have kept the peace in Goma by basically getting out of the way of the marauding rebel forces, this did not spare the civilians who have suffered so much already from the carnage and chaos in the besieged region.
The Medical Director at HEAL Africa, one of the largest hospitals in the area, Dr. Luc Malemo reports that his team have been triaging incoming wounded, but are running out of critical emergency supplies. And according to Dr. Margaret Salmon, their Chief of Emergency Medicine, they expect it to get worse: "The first 50 trauma patients is only the beginning. Goma is too insecure to move freely so we know from data that the vast majority of people just couldn't get to the hospital but will sometime soon (I hope)."
HEAL was founded over a decade ago by Congolese surgeon, Dr. Jo Lusi, and his late wife Lynn, to confront the collapse of the public health and medical services in Congo and the profound human costs of the extreme violence, mass population displacements, and widespread rape.
The scale of rape in this conflict is without precedent. And, this is not just a qualitative estimate from those on the frontlines of the war, reporting with tender hearts. Nothing short of the American Journal of Public Health reported in May 2011 that an estimated 400,000 rapes are happening annually here. That's over 1,000 women sexually brutalized a day. While referring to Congo, as some have, as "the rape capital of the world" is flip, the scale of this devastation goes beyond those numbers. Marriages, families, and communities are destroyed by sexual violence on this scale against so many women.
Our organization, The Fistula Foundation has funded the HEAL Hospital to treat women with the childbirth injury, obstetric fistula, but HEAL does far more than fistula. As the war here continues HEAL can use support from all corners. Dr. Salmon says that all care is provided now for free so the hospital is not generating any revenue. So, help HEAL help the victims of the senseless and brutal carnage. I realize that this does not stop the violence. The UN and its peacekeepers, the U.S. with its foreign aid leverage with neighbors in Uganda and Rwanda are better positioned to do that. But, you can do something too.