BUKAVU, Congo (AP) — In a three-nation tour of the continent, Jill Biden, the wife of the U.S. vice president, met this week with survivors of sexual violence in the eastern Congo. It was her third tour to Africa since her husband Joe Biden became vice president in 2009.
A teacher of English at a Virginia community college, the “Second Lady” also works to support military families, to highlight the work of community colleges, and to raise awareness of women’s health issues. Her trip to the DRC followed one to Zambia.
In the Bukavu area, Biden visited the Panzi Hospital, which treats sexual violence survivors. As she was greeted by hospital personnel, she said she wanted “to learn and better understand the challenges facing Congolese women.”
Biden commended Dr. Denis Mukwege, an internationally renowned gynecologist who founded the hospital in 1999 and whose team has treated more than 40,000 survivors of rape, some of whom had also been mutilated by guns and bayonets. In 2012, Mukwege survived an assassination attempt after armed intruders held his family at gunpoint.
Dr. Mukwege, who attended a global summit on sexual violence last month, suggested a new word should be found to replace “rape” because it did not convey the comprehensive destruction caused by war-time sexual violence.
“It’s not only sexual relations without consent. It’s an act of destruction. It’s an act which results in the negation of the other’s humanity, and it’s done to not only destroy people, but the community,” he said. “The international community must establish a red line for the use of rape in war in the same way it did for the use of chemical weapons.” He also called on the government to pay reparations to women raped by soldiers.
Biden’s last stop was in Sierra Leone where medical personnel are attempting to halt the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. A letter from grassroots doctors that appeared in The Lancet journal expressed fear that many cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone may be going undetected.
The West African country lacks doctors, diagnostic tools, a disease-monitoring network and even clothing to protect health workers, the letter said.
The city of Bo, for example, has less than 15 physicians for a population of more than 150,000 people. The number of physicians per person is similarly low, they note, in neighboring nations Guinea and Liberia.
The World Health Organization (WHO) gives a toll of 759 cases of Ebola in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia and of June 30, including 467 fatalities. Ninety-nine cases have occurred in Sierra Leone alone.