The Harvard Gazette: Paul Farmer on Partners In Health, 'Harvard-Haiti,' and Making the Lives of the Poor the Fight of His Life


Paul Farmer will forever be tied to his efforts to improve health care for the rural poor of Haiti, the Caribbean country he first visited between graduating from Duke University in 1982 and entering Harvard Medical School in 1984. But the combined force of his work, passion, and philosophy has extended far beyond any one nation, driving change and saving lives around the world.


The model developed by Partners In Health, which Farmer and colleagues founded in 1987, seeks to promote high standards in places thought of as “medical deserts.” The nonprofit has pioneered HIV/AIDS and drug-resistant tuberculosis treatments in resource-scarce settings, relies heavily on community health workers to support patients in remote locations, and doesn’t shirk from therapies that would be considered difficult even at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where Farmer trained and continues to work. The organization embraces a broad “whatever-it-takes” approach to care — boots on the ground to reach patients too sick to travel, shovels in the dirt to build not just hospitals and clinics, but homes, schools, and roads.


Farmer, 58, was born in North Adams, Mass., and raised in Florida. He is the head of Harvard Medical School’s Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Kolokotrones University Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine. His work takes him to meetings with global health leaders and experts, and to the 11 countries where Partners In Health now operates, often in the role of a too-scarce resource: trained physician.


Q: Do you still love what you do?


A: Oh yeah, more than ever. I love the work I get to do and the chance to see patients in radically different settings. Some people would find the travel part of it unsettling. I just came back from Delhi, Mumbai, and West Africa via Texas. It was great to talk to college students in Texas, where I was predictably asked, “How do you avoid burnout?”


Read the rest of the Q&A here:…

Please send donations to: Partners In Health, PO Box 996, Frederick, MD 21705-9942