Dr. Paul Farmer was a world-famous doctor and philanthropist who graduated from Hernando High School. He was a co-founder of Partners in Health (PIH) and remained the chief strategist. He passed away on February 21, 2022, in Rwanda from an acute cardiac event. Dr. Farmer was only 62 years old and left behind a wife Didi Bertrand Farmer and their three children.
Partners in Health started in Haiti in 1987 and provided treatment for AIDS/HIV in rural Haiti. This project was known as Zanmi Lasante (which is Haitian Creole for “Partners in Health”). The non-profit now focuses on community-based health projects throughout the world. Partners in Health’s mission is to “provide a preferential option for the poor in health care. By establishing long-term relationships with sister organizations based in settings of poverty, Partners In Health strives to achieve two overarching goals: to bring the benefits of modern medical science to those most in need of them and to serve as an antidote to despair.”
PIH has expanded to a number of countries and increased its focus on tackling disease, poverty, and human rights. PIH now serves 1,000 patients daily for free in Haiti. PIH is active in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Russia, Navajo Nation, Peru, Mexico, Haiti, Lesotho, Rwanda, and Malawi.
In addition to co-founding Partners in Health “Paul Farmer, M.D., Ph.D., was the Kolokotrones University Professor and chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston”. He won numerous awards, in addition, he was a “member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, from which he was the recipient of the 2018 Public Welfare Medal”.
Dr. Farmer graduated from Hernando High in 1978, where he served as class president. By 1983, prior to entering medical school, he was in Haiti laying the groundwork for what would become a revolutionary way to bring healthcare to impoverished communities. He graduated from Harvard with an MD and a Ph.D.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta the chief medical correspondent for CNN wrote an article about him entitled “The man who inspired me to be more selfless.” Ben Affleck and Matt Damon produced a documentary film about “How Three Young Activists Saved Millions of Lives,” called “Bending the Arc.” One of those three activists is Paul Farmer.
Dr. Farmer practices what he preaches. He personally provided healthcare in the countryside of Haiti. He speaks Creole and earned the trust of the remote villagers. He split his time between Rwanda, Haiti, and other areas.
Dr. Farmer has received a number of awards for his humanitarian service. Dr. Farmer was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship in 1993. He donated the $500,000 awarded with the grant to allow Partners In Health to create the Institute for Health and Social Justice. Former President Bill Clinton awarded Dr. Farmer the Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Award for Social Entrepreneurship in 2015.
Dr. Farmer gained international prominence in 2003 as a result of the bestseller by author Tracy Kidder who wrote “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World.” Tracy met Dr. Farmer in Haiti in 1994 and wrote the book tracing his life as a physician and anthropologist with an emphasis on his work fighting tuberculosis in Haiti, Peru, and Russia.
Dr. Farmer was an influential authority on the healthcare needs of impoverished areas. He is extensively quoted by the media and his articles and his commentary is widely distributed. He is known for his acerbic wit, some of his quotes can be quite biting. When asked about America’s Health care he replied “I’ve been asked a lot for my view on American health care. Well, ‘it would be a good idea,’ to quote Gandhi.” He also said, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”
He has also remarked, “It is very expensive to give bad medical care to poor people in a rich country.”
This important world figure has his roots in Hernando County. At one point his family lived in a school bus and now he is one of the best-known people to come out of the county. He is held in high esteem by major figures including world leaders, celebrities, other philanthropists, and healthcare professionals. He is self-described as “a poor people’s doctor.” He is working to improve the health care of the poor throughout the world. His passing is a loss for us all.