Remembering Dr. Howard Hiatt, A PIH Mentor and Global Health Champion

Dr. Hiatt mentored PIH co-founders Drs. Paul Farmer and Jim Kim and many others

Posted on Mar 5, 2024

Paul Farmer, Howard Hiatt, and Ophelia Dahl
Dr. Howard Hiatt (center) with PIH's co-founders Dr. Paul Farmer and Ophelia Dahl at the 2012 graduation ceremony for the Doris and Howard Hiatt Residency in Global Health Equity and Internal Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Photo from Partners In Health Archives

Global health leader Dr. Howard Hiatt passed away at age 98 on March 2. Well-known and respected in the public health field, Dr. Hiatt played pivotal roles in his decades-long involvement with Partners In Health (PIH).  

PIH CEO Dr. Sheila Davis shared a message: “From his early work identifying messenger RNA to his deanship at the Harvard School of Public Health—and numerous other leadership roles—Dr. Howard Hiatt made a transformational impact on global health. He was the beloved mentor of two of PIH’s co-founders, Dr. Paul Farmer and Dr. Jim Yong Kim, and was an early PIH supporter and member of our Board. With the late Dr. Farmer and Dr. Kim, Dr. Hiatt co-founded and led the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he established a groundbreaking residency program in internal medicine, public health, and global health equity that has since given rise to other equity-based training models. Beyond his extraordinary scholarship and advocacy, Dr. Hiatt was known for his exceptional kindness, commitment to service, and unstinting investment in the next generation of global health leaders—his legacy will live on through the many lives he improved and those he inspired to work in pragmatic solidarity with some of the world’s most impoverished communities.” 

A mentor to PIH co-founders Drs. Paul Farmer and Jim Yong Kim, Dr. Hiatt dedicated his life’s work to advancing global health equity. When Paul Farmer and Jim began curing dozens of patients in Peru with drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB), some were skeptical of this work and hesitated to fund it. However, Dr. Hiatt believed in both the work and Paul and Jim as people. Dr. Hiatt, through his diplomacy and keen strategic insight, helped them change global policy surrounding TB. Through his connections, he also helped secure tens of millions of dollars in donations.

“You can’t be exposed to Paul Farmer or Jim Kim and not think that this is the thing you should do,” Dr. Hiatt told The Boston Globe. “I was seduced by those two guys, and that became my next career.”

And in 2001, the trio formalized their legacy. They co-created the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, dedicated to serving vulnerable populations and teaching how heath care can better serve people. In 2004, a novel residency program followed: the Doris and Howard Hiatt Residency in Global Health Equity and Internal Medicine.  Graduates of this residency have strengthened health services in rural Malawi; built a graduate medical education program in Haiti; developed treatment protocols for Ebola treatment units; and more. Many continue to work at PIH sites around the world.

Another example of Dr. Hiatt’s impact is his support of the founding of PIH’s sister organization on Navajo Nation: Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment, Inc. (COPE). He was committed to not only addressing health disparities globally, but also strongly felt the injustice of these historical inequities in our own back yard. In 2007, Dr. Hiatt and his colleague, Dr. Phyllis Jen, began conversations to build a collaboration with partners on Navajo Nation. COPE was launched in partnership with the community, local leaders, Navajo Nation programs, and the Indian Health Service to promote health equity and strengthen the well-being of Indigenous communities. COPE is honored to continue the humble approach to accompaniment Dr. Hiatt always modeled, recognizing that the solutions to overcome health disparities lie inherently in Indigenous communities themselves. 

Dr. Howard Hiatt measures a patient's blood pressure during an outreach clinic in Haiti in 2001. Photo by Mark Rosenberg for PIH

Beyond PIH, Dr. Hiatt wore many hats. Personally, he was a husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Professionally, he was an accomplished molecular biologist, professor at Harvard Medical School, dean of the now Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, senior physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and more.

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