DR Congo

DR Congo Covid-19 response under fire as Nobel laureate Dr Mukwege quits

Nobel Peace laureate Mukwege has treated thousands of women and girls brutalised in the country's lacerating conflicts
Nobel Peace laureate Mukwege has treated thousands of women and girls brutalised in the country's lacerating conflicts AFP/File

Nobel Peace laureate Dr Denis Mukwege has resigned as head of a local task force fighting Covid-19 in eastern DRC in frustration at the government’s response to the crisis. He said a lack of coordinated action had crippled his work.


Two months into his job as vice-president of a special health commission set up to fight Covid-19 in South Kivu province, Denis Mukwege called it a day on Wednesday, blaming organisational problems.

In a statement, he cited "weaknesses in organisation and clarity between the various teams in charge of the response to the pandemic in South Kivu" in the government's response. 

Mukwege said that it took more than two weeks to get coronavirus test results from the national reference lab in Kinshasa, which was a "major handicap for our strategy based on testing, identifying, isolating and treating".

Sources from the national response team have acknowledged the resource shortage but have vowed that, as of next week, test results will be available in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu, within 24 hours.

Rising curve

For Mukwege, it's too little too late. He wants the government to shift its focus away from prevention to treatment.

"We are at the start of an exponential curve in terms of infections, and we can no longer apply a strategy that would be purely preventive," he said.

His sound of alarm so far appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

Mukwege said many prevention measures were being ignored and that thousands of citizens were returning from neighbouring countries without being quarantined.

Hospitals in Bukavu have seen an influx of patients in recent weeks, making it difficult to ignore the presence of coronavirus in the city, he added.

Devoted to care

"I have decided to resign...in order to devote myself entirely to my medical duties and to treat the influx of patients at Panzi hospital," Mukwege said, referring to the now famous care facility where he treats abused women from the Congolese civil war.

In 2018, he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize alongside Iraqi Yazidi activist Nadia Murad, for campaigns against sexual violence.

His resignation from the special health commission could strike a blow to the entire national response team led by Dr Jean-Jacques Muyembe, another renowned medical researcher in DRC.

Muyembe told local media on Monday that "when the virus spreads to several provinces, it will be a serious problem."

The country has more than 4,515 cases of Covid-19, and new infections have risen sharply in 10 of the 26 provinces. At least 98 people have died. 

While prioritising his role as caregiver to the influx of patients to Panzi hospital, Mukwege said he would continue to bring his "intellectual contribution in the fight against the pandemic in the province of South Kivu".

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