Partners in caring for victims of sexual violence
ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan is a close partner to Denis Mukwege, who received the Nobel Peace Prize this week for his work to end sexual violence against women in armed conflict.
His son, Alain Mukwege, is a research associate at the U-M School of Nursing. U-M awarded Denis Mukwege with the Wallenberg Medal in 2010. The medal was named after an alumnus who saved tens of thousands of Jews during World War II.
“My father always says justice is everyone’s business,” Alain Mukwege said. “We need to empower women, because if you empower women you’re able to empower the entire community and future generations.”
Janis Miller, a researcher in the U-M School of Nursing, works closely with the Nobel prize winner and his son.
“I feel like there has been a need to be patient when the cause has demanded impatience,” said Miller, who has partnered with Mukwege’s Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo for close to a decade. “The Nobel Prize to Dr. Mukwege gives a voice to the survivors of sexual violence who have been hidden from the public eye for so long.”
Their partnership started when Miller spent a day with the Congolese doctor in 2010, and although she couldn’t speak French and his English was limited, the two clicked.
“We bonded over our mutual interest in helping women whose bottom ends have seen the worst side of the world,” said Miller, whose expertise includes recovery from pelvic tissue trauma in childbirth and the resulting physical and psychological distress.
Their early conversations led to a visit from Miller to Panzi hospital in Bukavu, an eastern city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The visit convinced her she could add the most value at Panzi by sharing her experience with research: managing budgets, applying for grants, pairing researchers, establishing ethics review boards and assuring integrity in research methods.
Multidisciplinary experts from the fields of nursing, epidemiology, business and social work formed a team at U-M to figure out how to work with Panzi Hospital and its associated university, Universite Evangelique D’Afrique.
The group created the International Center of Advanced Research and Training. Launched with seed funding from U-M’s Third Century Initiative, the center opened in 2013 and has been developing training and research programs in Bukavu.
The younger Mukwege is following in his father’s footsteps. The U-M partnership expanded in 2015 when Alain Mukwege also came to the university to work with Miller.
“The University of Michigan has an eye open to the world,” Alain Mukwege said. “People here know you can learn things from other countries and by exchanging knowledge, you can empower communities here and very far away.”