Leading Swedish architecture firm develops people-centric mother and baby unit in the DR Congo

Swedish practice White Arkitekter has developed the design for a new facility to be built on the existing Panzi Hospital site in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Panzi hospital was set up in 1999, by Dr Denis Mukwege and the CEPAC church, with the main goal of improving wellbeing for mothers and their children.

Following 20 years of devastation by war in the region, the hospital expanded its focus to treat survivors of sexual violence. Today, the Panzi Hospital serves over 400,000 people in the region.

Dr Denis Mukwege is widely recognised for his treatment and advocacy of female victims of sexual violence and has received numerous international awards. Mukwege was awarded the UN Human Rights Prize (2008), shortlisted for the Nobel Peace Prize eight times, and received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought (2014).

The concept for the new mother and baby unit was developed by a team led by Dr Mukwege and Marie Berg, Professor in Health Care Sciences specialising in Reproductive and Perinatal Health at Gothenburg University. Professor Berg has been working as a midwife and advisor in the DRC since 1981.

The design team at White Arkitekter together with Professor Berg, have brought their extensive healthcare expertise to the project to deliver a sustainable and person-centred care model. The new unit aims to reduce the maternal and post-natal mortality rate, provide more positive birth experiences and improve working conditions.

It will replace overcrowded and inadequate facilities at Panzi Hospital, which deals with up to 3500 births per year. The hospital suffers from insufficient sanitation, poor logistical arrangements, and no facilities for family members to remain close to the mother and child. Due to the shortage of beds, currently mothers often have to share rooms with other mothers and their babies, causing psychological distress.

The simple and harmonious design is planned along the principles of ‘healing architecture’ in which the quality of the environment contributes to positive patient recovery. The easy- to-navigate design prioritises daylight, privacy and views out to nature. Each unit has private access to green courtyards for rehabilitation, recreation and social activities. Locally sourced materials are used where possible.

The design for the new hospital consists of two distinct components. A one-storey intensive care block houses a labour ward and neonatal unit. A series of seven two-storey modular pavilions provide post-birth patient rooms and the outpatient department. The patient wards are designed as small units of 8-16 patients with patient rooms of 1-2 beds. The units vary in size enabling families to support patients during their stay. The buildings are reached from a large entrance square via internal pathways.

Cristiana Caira, lead architect at White Arkitekter says:

“During our work on the feasibility study we have constantly been reminded that architecture can make a major difference. In the long term, we hope to be able to create a model to build healing architecture in developing countries rationally, sustainably and in an economically smart way.”

Dr Denis Mukwege says:

“All women should receive quality care throughout pregnancy, labour, birth and beyond, as well as in relation to optimal planning of pregnancy. This planned new facility will holistically promote the health of women and children throughout their maternity and early years.”

Professor Marie Berg says:

“A unique aspect of this project was the close collaboration between Panzi hospital, White architects, and Gothenburg University to create optimal research-based person-centred care adapted to local needs.”

The Panzi Hospital is now seeking funding for the new mother and baby unit, which will be the first stage of a long-term development masterplan at Panzi Hospital. Once completed the new unit will serve as a blueprint for maternity and postnatal healthcare facilities in similar circumstances in DRC and beyond.