I want to pay tribute to Dr. Paul Farmer who died this week at the age of 62. I didn’t know much about Dr. Farmer except what my wife told me about him when, in preparing for a mission trip to Haiti several years ago, she read Tracy Kidder’s book, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World. The book chronicled Dr. Farmer’s efforts to improve health care in Haiti and other poor nations.
Ellen Barry and Alex Traub wrote in a NY Times article that “He was a practitioner of ‘social medicine,’ arguing that there was no point in treating people for diseases only to send them back into the desperate circumstances that contributed to them in the first place. Illness, he said, has social roots and must be addressed through social structures.” Later they added that “During the AIDS crisis in Haiti, he went door to door to deliver antiviral medication, confounding many in the medical field who believed it would be impossible for poor rural people to survive the disease.”
Dr. Farmer believed that where a person is born should not dictate the level of health care that they receive. In his obituary in The Washington Post, Dr. Anthony Fauci is quoted as saying “He really stands out as one of the most influential global health figures of our time” and that “he sacrificed personal comfort to go into the trenches with the people he cared for.”
Luckily for us, Partners in Health, the global health organization that he co-founded in the 80s goes on. With the support of philanthropists that Dr. Farmer inspired, the organization has and will carry on the mission that Dr. Farmer started so long ago. In a news cycle that so often brings us stories about all that is wrong with the world, it’s nice to read about a man who selflessly gave of himself to help so many.
This week’s selection is:
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
In medical school, Paul Farmer found his life’s calling: to cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. Tracy Kidder’s magnificent account shows how one person can make a difference in solving global health problems through a clear-eyed understanding of the interaction of politics, wealth, social systems, and disease. Profound and powerful, Mountains Beyond Mountains takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes people’s minds through his dedication to the philosophy that “the only real nation is humanity.”