Remarks After Touring the Fistula Clinic at St. Joseph's Hospital

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
May 4, 2014

Your Excellency Bishop Edouard and to everybody here, it’s a great privilege for me to be able to visit this hospital, St. Joseph’s. And I am so impressed by what I have seen and moved by what I have seen. Sister Marie Joseph, thank you so much for your incredible directorship here which you are leading and doing.

And I had occasion to talk at length with this wonderful surgeon, Dr. Dolores Nembunzu. And se is saving lives and making an extraordinary difference and this hospital is for young women who are victimized by sexual violence or in some cases by young women who are simply giving birth to children way before the time that they should be doing that. And they suffer damage to their reproductive capacity as a result of that.

Fistula is a very debilitating, degrading, and unbelievably painful, horrible condition that seals the future of these young women. Many of these young women, unfortunately, are ostracized by their community, abandoned by their families and their husbands, and they are left to their own devices. And but for the extraordinary care that is provided in a place like St. Joseph’s, these women would be lost.

What is happening here is an act of defiance, really, to fight back against violence, against gender-based violence and gender-based discrimination, and decisions that are made about young women that simply don’t work for those young women. So there are some 4,000 cases a year in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some 200 get to be treated here every year, I believe, by surgery. This wonderful doctor performs amazing surgeries. She told me that the shortest surgery is a surgery of 17 minutes; the longest surgeries are six or seven hours because that’s how much repair has to be done to restore these women’s lives.

I just met two young girls, one 26, a young woman, and a 19-year-old, both of whom were having extraordinary difficulty giving birth as a result of the violence that they had (inaudible) and as well as a lack of care, and the result was that they needed an operation desperately. One of them came here so weak, lost weight, lost strength, that for four months she’s been here, and much of that time was simply to get her to eat, to get her to be able to get strong, so she could then be cured and have an operation.

I met a woman a few minutes ago who I talked to, Julienne Lusenge, who is an activist for women who is courageous working with an organization that she has helped put together with 56 different agents around the country who are working to fight for the rights of women to be able to be freed from this kind of exploitation and violence.

(In French.) (Laughter.)

I mentioned that there were 4,000 cases a year. Thanks to a program in the United States run by the USAID – and our director of USAID is here, you can see up here our 50th anniversary effort – but we have treated 7,000 women that we have helped have these procedures to be able to be cured from fistula.

So I want to thank everybody who is involved in this effort. I want to thank the church, merci beaucoup. This is what the church should be doing to reach people and help people and administer. And I think that we can all be very, very proud of what this hospital is doing.

I also want to thank all of the people in the hospital and the director, Sister Marie Joseph. President Obama is deeply committed, as I am and everybody in our State Department is, to work to prevent this extraordinary violence against women and young girls. We are working to help educate young men, boys, and girls. And the global community, I promise you, will continue to stay focused on trying to prevent this kind of violence and help to save the lives of young women who have been oppressed by it.

(In French.)