A clinic in the midst of devastation

Discover the inspiring story of Deogratias Niyizonkiza and his journey to bring medical hope to the impoverished nation of Burundi. Learn how he overcame numerous obstacles to establish Burundi's first women's hospital, providing critical healthcare services to those in need. Witness the transformation of a dream into reality and the potential to save countless lives.

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Burundi, a tiny nation in central Africa with an estimated of 12 million people, is one of the world's poorest countries. Substandard hospital conditions and a physician and nurse shortage have resulted in preventable sickness and death, especially mortality rates which are twenty-seven times greater than in the United States. C-sections and other life-saving treatments are not available in rural locations. Deogratias Niyizonkiza '01GS, the founder and CEO of the organization Community Healthcare Works, which operates a public medical and social center in Burundi, says, "Mothers are dying in childbirth, leaving infants with no future or hope."


After much hard work and several obstacles, such as the COVID-19 crisis, Niyizonkiza will finally be able to fulfill his dream of starting Burundi's first women's hospital later this year. The 150-bed Women's Health Pavilion, located in the rural mountain community of Kigutu, will initially provide emergency, ob-gyn, and pediatrics treatment, with the intention of expanding its services and creating a rigorous training system for health workers in the near future.

That Niyizonkiza will be the one to accomplish this feat is a miracle in and of itself. With little money and no English, he immigrated to the U.s. in 1994 as a refugee from Burundi's deadly civil war. He had been a bright medical student in Burundi, but when he arrived in New York City, he was homeless and survived by delivering groceries. By chance, a client – a former nun — was moved by his story and offered to help him find lodgings. Niyizonkiza eventually enrolled at Columbia's School of Liberal Studies and went on to Harvard to study public health and Dartmouth to study medicine before starting Community Healthcare Works in 2007.

Niyizonkiza is ecstatic to be capable of making such a significant difference after decades of working to accomplish his objective of improving health care in his country. He said, "This clinic could become the glory of Burundi, the delight of everyone who works in it and uses it." "It will save a lot of lives."

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