Honoring the Life and Legacy of Paul Farmer

Dr. Paul Farmer, an award-winning infectious disease doctor, anthropologist, co-founder of Partners in Health (PIH), and author of 12 books died at age 62 on February 21, 2022. Farmer was a global health champion and he dedicated his career to provide healthcare to those living in underserved communities in sub-Saharan Africa and around the world.

Farmer passed away in Rwanda, where he began working in 2005. He provided care from a place of love and solidarity and preferred living in community with the people he treated. In the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, PIH helped the government fight HIV, improve maternal and child health, and deliver integrated, high-quality health care. Rwanda’s mortality rate decreased by 80 percent and today, the country stands as a model for building strong health systems in resource-limited settings.

In 2019, Farmer received Rwanda’s highest honor, the National Order of Outstanding Friendship, an award given to those who have performed outstanding acts in promoting friendship and cooperation between Rwanda and other countries.

Among his achievements, Farmer was the recipient of the US$1 million Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture in 2020 for his philosophy on accompaniment. Farmer believed that accompaniment meant providing his patients with unconditional support and company.

Farmer will also be remembered for his practice of social medicine, which valued the social determinants of health.

“You have to look at what’s happening to the patient in front of you and think about ways to address social disparities. If there’s food insecurity, then you provide food when you provide care. Or if patients drop out of treatment, you provide transportation to the clinic, or you send community health workers to the patient,” Farmer stated.

Farmer co-founded PIH in 1987 at the age of 27 with the mission of providing high quality health care in resource-poor settings. PIH began its work in Haiti and pioneered community-based treatment strategies in 12 countries including Mexico, Kazakhstan, and Sierra Leone. The founding story of PIH was featured in the documentary, Bending the Arc.

PIH C.E.O. Sheila Davis states, “Paul Farmer’s loss is devastating, but his vision for the world will live on through Partners in Health. Paul taught all those around him the power of accompaniment, love for one another, and solidarity. Our deepest sympathies are with his family.”

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Photo courtesy of John Ra, Partners In Health

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