Nearly half a million Burundians fled to neighbouring countries due to fierce ethnic violence that led to an intractable civil war lasting from 1993 to 2006. In 2005, the first elections were held in Burundi, with victory going to the current President, Pierre Nkurunziza, a former rebel fighter. As peace returned to Burundi, most refugees — who had gone to neighbouring Tanzania — gradually came back home.

The country now enjoys relative stability but remains very poor, with the UN estimating more than half the population lives below the poverty line. Among the heavy challenges, in common with other sub-Saharan African countries, is AIDS. Some 180,000 people were living with HIV in Burundi in 2009, and the adult prevalence rate was 3.3%, up from 2% in 2007. More than 17,000 people received ART in 2009 — not even a quarter of those eligible. A pressing problem is the vertical transmission of HIV, from mother to child: in 2009, Burundi ranked among the countries with the largest number of pregnant women living with HIV.

Reducing vertical transmission is one of the main aims of the Service Yezu Mwiza, an AIDS project run by the Jesuit Region of Rwanda-Burundi in Bujumbura that includes the Martin Royackers clinic.