Dr. Nixon Niyonzima at the Uganda Cancer Institute. The new outpatient clinic and research center is seen in the background.
By Amelia Havanec
Making a major impact in your country, improving the lives of countless people. Few ever have the opportunity. Dr. Nixon Niyonzima, a young Ugandan physician, is one such individual. In a country of 36 million people, he will soon be one of only a dozen practicing oncologists, waging war on a preventable form of cancer that is uniquely deadly for the African country.
Eleven years ago, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center started a relationship with the Uganda Cancer Institute, aimed at helping the country fight the disease, where it kills over 20,000 people annually. Cancer is a global problem, but in Uganda, 60 percent of reported cancer cases are actually preventable. To respond, Fred Hutch launched an ongoing training program to create more Ugandan cancer specialists. To date, 12 have been trained. 11 have returned to the country, leaving Niyonzima as the sole physician still in Seattle.
For Niyonzima, this fight is personal. His first encounter with cancer was at eight years old, when his mother died from the disease. The Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI), armed with only one full-time oncologist until 2008, was once the sole place in Uganda and five surrounding countries where cancer patients could seek treatment. The emotional toll Niyonzima endured, watching his mother travel hundreds of miles for chemotherapy, planted the seed for him to pursue a medical career.
“I was thinking of actually doing infectious diseases, but when I completed medical school… my mentor at Duke was doing oncology,” he says. “He encouraged me to join [the Uganda Cancer Institute] and do research projects there.”
Amelia Havanec is Crosscut's Science and Tech Fellow. She came to Washington from her home state of Connecticut by way of New York, Florida, California and Michigan in pursuit of the perfect pint. She’s a graduate student at the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. Amelia is a podcaster, blogger, ice hockey player, indoor cycling instructor, and two-time marathon runner. She volunteers teaching yoga to inner-city kids in Detroit, but her “stress release” really comes from snowboarding. She’s shredded the gnar in New Zealand, Italy and Switzerland, and anticipates the next day when fresh powder hits the mountain.