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Known to his friends as just “Deo”, he barely escaped Burundi’s ethnic conflict in 1993, when rebels attacked the hospital that he worked in.
He made his way to the United States, where through the kindness of strangers he was given shelter and later, a top education.
Now he’s back in his homeland, helping to restore a shattered health system.
"Nothing good was going on in the country for more than a decade but trauma and infection and no treatment and no prevention," says Niyizonkiza.
On his return to Burundi, Niyizonkiza founded a non-profit called Village Health Works and opened a health clinic, which has served more than 60,000 people since 2007.
One thing he learned when studying similar programs was the value of free health care and the use of local volunteers.
The clinic has now deployed more than 100 community health workers across this rugged, mountainous region, where constant surveillance is needed.
Cecile Sijeniyo is one of the workers. She’s visiting an HIV-positive woman to make sure that she’s taking her medication.
HIV carries a great deal of stigma, and it can be difficult for people to open up to members of their community like this.
The interpreter explains why this patient allows Cecile to visit: "She chose Cecile because first of all she is a neighbor and second of all she is somebody who can be discreet and also who can be willing to be following her on a daily basis."
Niyizonkiza says two elements that are crucial to the success of the program are, first, that the community workers are paid a small stipend, and second, that they get a bonus for each new patient.
That acts as an incentive to spot potential cases of HIV, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.
Catching and treating those cases early, they say, is crucial for the health of the entire community.