Dr. Paul Farmer Honored with WHO Director-General's Global Health Leaders Award

PIH co-founder called "a true humanitarian and a tireless champion of equity and health as a human right."

Posted on May 23, 2022

Didi Bertrand receives WHO award on behalf of Dr. Paul Farmer
Wingdie "Didi" Bertrand, co-founder and president of Women and Girls Initiative and widow of PIH Co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer, accepts the WHO Director-General's Global Health Leaders Award on behalf of her husband on Sunday, May 22. Photos by Cate Oswald / PIH

Yesterday, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus bestowed a WHO Director-General’s Global Health Leaders Award on Partners In Health (PIH) Co-founder and Chief Strategist Dr. Paul Farmer, who passed away unexpectedly in February.

The honor was given at the opening of the 75th World Health Assembly (WHO), the annual meeting of national representatives who make up the decision-making body of WHO, and broadcast worldwide.

“Paul was a true humanitarian and a tireless champion of equity and health as a human right,” said Tedros. “His work helped to empower health and care workers in communities around the world. He worked in places that others had given up on.”

Wingdie “Didi” Bertrand, co-founder and president of Women and Girls Initiative and widow of Dr. Farmer, accepted the award on his behalf.

Didi Bertrand accepts the WHO award from Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Bertrand accepts the WHO Director-General’s Global Health Leaders Award from Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“We owe it to Paul to collectively keep his legacy alive,” said Bertrand. “That is why today I am encouraging all in attendance to adopt policy decisions on behalf of your fellow citizens that prioritize treating every person as a person—and invest in the provision of high quality, lifesaving health care—as health is a fundamental human right.

"This is what Paul has inspired us to do, taking, always the lead, through hard work and commitment to his patients and their families and communities around the world.”

As an infectious disease physician, Dr. Farmer earned accolades for treating patients in impoverished countries with high quality care, including those suffering from HIV and cancer. As a medical anthropologist, he was known for popularizing and deepening understandings of “structural violence,” the idea that social systems are designed to impoverish, sicken, and sideline select groups. As chief strategist of PIH, he garnered plaudits for pioneering community-based treatment strategies, building teaching hospitals, and more.

Dr. Farmer authored multiple books, including: In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, Reimagining Global Health: An Introduction, and To Repair the World: Paul Farmer Speaks to the Next Generation. His most recent book was released in November 2020: Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds: Ebola and the Ravages of History. He was also a professor at Harvard University.

Dr. Sheila Davis, PIH CEO, leads PIH and advances his vision. “On behalf of the entire Partners In Health team, we want to thank WHO for honoring Paul with this award,” she said. “Paul taught us all so much—how to treat clinical maladies; how to practice pragmatic solidarity; and how to integrate dignity, beauty, and social support into care delivery. But most importantly, he taught us that our lives are in service to others.” 

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