Dr. Paul Farmer Talks Health Equity, Empathy with Bay Area NPR

Posted on Aug 23, 2019

Dr. Paul Farmer at University Hospital in Mirebalais, Haiti
Dr. Paul Farmer (seated), Partners In Health co-founder and chief strategist, visits PIH-supported Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais, or University Hospital, in Mirebalais, Haiti, in 2016. He's talking with Dr. Jean Sauvener Ferle, one of Farmer's first patients in Haiti three decades ago. Farmer spoke about his experiences in Haiti on KQED radio earlier this week. Katherine Kralievits / Partners In Health

In a Bay Area NPR interview this week that ranged from Congo and Rwanda to Palo Alto, Harvard and Haiti, Dr. Paul Farmer focused strongly on a common thread that connected the diverse topics.  

“If you don’t have an equity agenda in mind….I think you’re looking at the wrong target,” Farmer, co-founder and chief strategist for Partners In Health, said to host Michael Krasny on KQED’s Forum radio show.

Farmer returned Tuesday to KQED and Forum, spending a full hour on the San Francisco NPR affiliate’s call-in news program. Farmer has appeared on the show previously in recent years, and he and Krasny enjoyed a familiar, friendly rapport as they discussed the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, how to build trust and stronger health systems in communities where PIH works around the world, and how simple acts of empathy can improve health care equity for all.

Farmer had returned less than two days earlier from a visit with PIH teams in Rwanda. During his time there, Farmer spoke at the Aug. 11 graduation at the University of Global Health Equity, a PIH initiative in the country’s rural north; attended the opening of the nearby Cancer Support Center, which will provide housing and supports for patients in extended care at Butaro District Hospital; and met with health leaders helping Rwanda prepare for potential Ebola cases, should the deadly virus cross the border from neighboring Congo.

Farmer’s whirlwind schedule led Krasny to ask, in a lighter moment, if Farmer ever worried about burnout. Farmer joked that he’d be more worried if he had become a banker, or another profession outside of health care.

“I happen to have chosen a vocation,” Farmer said, referring to his leading role with PIH over more than three decades. “I find it very bracing and fun, so the chances of burnout are much lower.”

Farmer also took questions from listeners during the hourlong program, with people calling locally from around the Bay Area and from as far away as Toronto.

Listen to the full interview and conversation here.

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