Stephen Lewis Foundation allocates $300,000 to Panzi Hospital as violence against women and the spread of HIV continue to escalate in the Congo

    - Funds will go directly to aid women affected by rape and violence -

    TORONTO, June 9 /CNW/ - The Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF) today
announced an additional $300,000 grant to the Panzi Hospital in eastern
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to increase its capacity to treat women
who have been brutally raped - often with weapons and tools - and have
contracted HIV and other sexually transmitted infections as a result. The
Foundation also announced that it will bring together experts from DRC,
Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and South Africa later this month to create a plan of
action to support women in the DRC and to support the hospital's efforts to
provide trauma counselling for patients.
    "The eastern Congo has been described by senior United Nations officials
as the worst place in the world for women," said Stephen Lewis, Chair of the
Stephen Lewis Foundation. "Terrible, unspeakable things are being done to
women in the DRC. They live in fear of being violated, tortured, mutilated and
infected with HIV."
    It is estimated that 5.4 million people have died in the DRC since 1998 -
the highest death toll of any conflict since World War II - and hundreds of
thousands of women and girls have been raped by multiple armed forces.
    The Panzi Hospital provides free medical care to victims of war and has
treated some 15,000 survivors of sexual violence since 1999. An estimated 10%
of its patients test positive for HIV. "The hospital was born out of
suffering," said Dr. Roger Luhiriri, a surgeon at Panzi, who is in Toronto
this month attending a course on women's human rights. "If you want to destroy
a nation, you do so by destroying its women."
    The Stephen Lewis Foundation began funding Panzi Hospital in
November 2007. The new $300,000 grant will allow the hospital to scale-up
testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, increase community
outreach to bring rape survivors to the hospital within 72 hours to access
post-exposure prophylaxis treatment, purchase surgical equipment and supplies,
increase safe blood supplies and provide food for HIV-positive patients on
anti-retroviral medication.
    Panzi's team of six surgeons operates on some sixty patients a week.
Doctors perform reconstructive surgery to repair women's reproductive systems,
but only one psychologist is on staff to assist with trauma counselling.
"Women are often raped in front of their families, or family members are
forced to rape each other. The stories are heartbreaking," explained Dr.
Luhiriri. "As doctors, we work to heal women's bodies, but psychosocial
support is absolutely critical for women to recover and be able to reintegrate
into society."
    In response to the urgent need for trauma counselling, SLF will host a
meeting in Toronto from June 30 - July 2 with leading experts from African
women's organizations that counsel women in the context of violence, HIV/AIDS
and civil unrest to discuss ways to support the Panzi Hospital. One
organization, the Girl Child Network (GCN), has a network of 700 girls'
empowerment clubs across Zimbabwe to help girls cope with the impact of
gender-based violence, and to access counselling, medical care and bring
perpetrators of violence to justice.
    "We believe that the rape in the DRC must stop. It's killing women and
girls and crippling the country," said GCN founder Betty Makoni, who spoke at
a press conference today with Mr. Lewis and Dr. Luhiriri at the MaRS
Collaboration Centre in Toronto. "GCN has a decade of experience in providing
safe spaces for girls to seek help and to transform themselves from victims to
survivors, and eventually to community leaders. We are committed to supporting
our sisters in the Congo."
    In total, the Foundation has provided $650,000 to support survivors of
sexual violence in the DRC. In conjunction with V-Day, the global movement to
end violence against women, SLF is also supporting the construction of a 'City
of Joy'; a transitional housing complex for 150 survivors of rape and abuse
who will be trained as community leaders.

     The Stephen Lewis Foundation works to ease the pain of HIV/AIDS
     in Africa. For more information, visit
        SLF would like to thank the MaRS Centre and Media Profile
                   for generously donating their services.


                    Easing the pain of HIV/AIDS in Africa

For further information:

For further information: Media Contact: Stephanie Bell, Erin O'Reilly at
Media Profile, (416) 504-8464, or,

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