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Dr. Paul Farmer - 2006

Dr. Paul Farmer - 2006

Medical anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer has dedicated hislife to treating some of the world's poorest populations, in theprocess helping to raise the standard of health care in underdevelopedareas of the world. A founding director of Partners in Health, an international charity organization that provides direct health careservices and undertakes research and advocacy activities on behalf ofthose who are sick and living in poverty, Dr. Farmer and his colleagueshave successfully challenged the policymakers and critics who claimthat quality health care is impossible to deliver in resource-poorareas.

Paul Farmer has worked in infectious-disease control in the Americas for nearly two decades and is a world-renowned authority ontuberculosis treatment and control. His work draws primarily on active clinical practice (Dr. Farmer is an attending physician in infectious diseases and Chief of the Division of Social Medicine and Health Inequalities at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and medical director of a small hospital, the Clinique Bon Sauveur, in rural Haiti) and focuses on diseases that disproportionately afflict the poor. Along with his colleagues at the Brigham and in the Program in Infectious Disease and Social Change at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Farmer has pioneered novel, community-based treatment strategies for infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis) inresource-poor settings. He has also written extensively about healthand human rights, and about the role of social inequalities in the distribution and outcomes of readily treatable diseases. His work in Haiti has taught him that poverty, inequality, and political turmoillead inevitably to poor health outcomes among the vulnerable, and this belief fuels his scholarly, clinical, advocacy, and charitable activities.

Paul Farmer began his lifelong commitment to Haiti when still astudent, in 1983, working with villages in Haiti's Central Plateau; thefollowing year he began medical school at Harvard, and two years laterhelped found Zanmi Lastane (Creole for Partners In Health), serving asits medical director from 1991 to the present. Boston-based Partners InHealth was founded in 1987. Zanmi Lasante -- which has grown from aone-building clinic in the village of Cange to a multiservice healthcomplex that includes a primary school, an infirmary, a surgery wing, atraining program for health outreach workers, a 104-bed hospital, awomen's clinic, and a pediatric care facility -- has pioneered thetreatment of both multidrug-resistant tuberculosis and HIV in Haiti.This role was key in helping Haiti qualify in 2002 among the firstgroup of countries awarded money from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS,Tuberculosis, and Malaria; Haiti was actually the first country in theworld to receive these funds and begin employing them to fight disease.A ringing endorsement of Partners In Health's community-based approachto health care, the award has allowed Zanmi Lasante to expand itstreatment facilities into neighboring communities, where it is the onlyhealth-care provider for hundreds of thousands of peasant farmers in the Central Plateau -- and a model for poor communities world wide. InCange alone, the small medical staff often sees over 300 patients aday, close to 220,000 patients each year.

With colleagues in Haiti and Peru, Dr. Farmer has helped lead theinternational response to mutlidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB),later found to be endemic in the former Soviet Union, by establishingpilot MDR-TB treatment programs and organizing effective deliverysystems for medications. Working closely with the Open SocietyInstitute, he has participated in evaluations of TB treatment programsin Russia, Peru, Azerbaijan, Latvia, Kazakhstan, with a specialinterest in TB among prison populations. Dr. Farmer was instrumental inestablishing the World Health Organization's Working Group on MDR-TBand has been a member of DOTS-Plus Working Group for the GlobalTuberculosis Programme of the World Health Organization; Chief Advisorof Tuberculosis Programs of the Open Society Institute; Chief MedicalConsultant for the Tuberculosis Treatment Project in the Prisons ofTomsk (Siberia); and a member of the Scientific Committee of the WHOWorking Group on DOTS-Plus for MDR-TB. He has served on the ScientificReview board of ten of the last international conferences on AIDS, andhas been a leading voice on behalf of HIV/AIDS and MDR-TB patientsacross the world.

Author or co-author of over 100 scholarly publications, his researchand writing stem in large part from work in Haiti and Peru, and fromclinical and teaching activities. He is the author of the recentlypublished Pathologies of Power (University of California Press, 2003); Infections and Inequalities (University of California Press, 1998); The Uses of Haiti (Common Courage Press, 1994); and AIDS and Accusation (University of California Press, 1992). In addition, he is co-editor of Women, Poverty and AIDS (Common Courage Press, 1996) and of The Global Impact of Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis (Harvard Medical School and Open Society Institute, 1999).

Currently Presley Professor of Medical Anthropology in theDepartment of Social Medicine at the Harvard Medical School, Dr. Farmerhas both taught in and served as a course director for social-medicinecourses in the Department. He also trains medical students, residents,and fellows at the Brigham and Women's Hospital. He has been a visitingprofessor at institutions throughout the U.S. as well as in France,Canada, Peru, the Netherlands, Russia, and Central Asia.

Among the numerous awards Dr. Farmer has received in the last decadeare the Duke University Humanitarian Award, the Margaret Mead Awardfrom the American Anthropological Association, and the American MedicalAssociation's International Physician (Nathan Davis) Award. In 1993, hewas awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "geniusaward" in recognition of his work. Perhaps no award so typifies PaulFarmer's life and accomplishments, however, as the Heinz Award for theHuman Condition, which he received in 2003. "To say that Dr. PaulFarmer is a life saver does not begin to describe the impact of hiswork," said Teresa Heinz, chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation. "Dr.Farmer and his extraordinary organization have been a force in makingthe world confront the health care needs of those who historically havenever had access to proper care. Because of his dedication andcompassion, critical health care services are now being administeredaround the globe to people who previously would have been leftuntreated."

In his acceptance of the Heinz Award, Paul Farmer reminded us allthat "as members of the world community, we must recognize that we canand should summon our collective resources to save the countless livesthat were previously alleged to be beyond our help." He believes we cando no less than this.

Dr. Farmer received his Bachelor's degree in 1982 from DukeUniversity, and his M.D. and Ph.D. (in Anthropology) simultaneously in1990 from Harvard University. He and his wife, anthropologist DidiBertrand, live in Paris and in Haiti. They have a five-year-olddaughter, Catherine.

August 2003.
Adopted from Brigham and Women's Hospital, Teaching Hospital of Harvard University.