Dr. David Fleming, director at Seattle King County Public Health and former director of Global Health Strategies at the Gates Foundation, sees Village Health Works as the epitome of the global health ideal: globally-sourced expertise working symphonically to provide holistic, multi-dimensional health care to impoverished communities. Over half of VHW’s staff experts are based in Seattle, though the organization itself is based in New York and Burundi. Founder Deogratias Niyizonkiza began the small non-profit 6 years ago in his war-ravaged village of Kigutu, Burundi. The town’s health statistics were sobering: 54% child malnutrition and the highest child mortality rate in the world, due largely to waterborne disease and lack of sanitation. This is in addition to the poisonous legacies of the Rwandan genocide next door.
Since opening its doors in 2007, VHW has treated more than 70,000 patients. In 2012 alone, VHW saw huge advances: it treated 22% more patients than the year before, saw a 228% percent increase in voluntary HIV testing and a 221% rise in pre-natal consultations. Seattle physicians like Sachita Shah, Kris Sherwood and Joseph Alsberge regularly donate time and expertise.
Right from the start, the people of Kigutu offered massive amounts of labor and land to get VWH underway, says Justin Hanseth, Bainbridge native and cofounder of VHW’s food security project. Hanseth, a Seattle University alumnus, specializes in sustainable agriculture and, since 2008, has been building an agri-food ecosystem in Burundi that now supports over 400 household garden and livestock cooperatives. In the last two years, not a single case of childhood malnutrition has been reported within one-and-a-half kilometers of the clinic.