Paul E. Farmer, M.D., Ph.D.
2006 Mendel Medal Recipient
Medical anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer has dedicated his life
some of the world's poorest populations, in the process helping
to raise the standard
of health care for the destitute sick everywhere.
A founding director of Partners In
Health, an international charity organization
that provides direct health care services
and undertakes research and advocacy
activities on behalf of those who are sick and living in poverty, Dr. Farmer
and his colleagues have successfully challenged the policymakers and critics
who claim that quality health care is impossible to deliver in resource-poor settings.
Dr. Farmer has worked in infectious-disease control for nearly two decades and is a
world-renowned authority on AIDS and tuberculosis. His work draws primarily on active
clinical practice (Dr. Farmer is an attending physician in infectious diseases and Chief
of the Division of Social Medicine and Health Inequalities at the Brigham and Women's
Hospital in Boston, and medical director of a hospital, the Clinique Bon Sauveur,
in rural Haiti) and focuses on diseases that disproportionately afflict the poor.
Along with his colleagues at the Brigham and in the Program in Infectious Disease
and Social Change at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Farmer has pioneered novel,
community-based treatment strategies for infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS and
multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB)) in resource-poor settings. He has also
written extensively about health and human rights, and about the role of social
inequalities in determining the distribution and outcomes of readily treatable diseases.
His work in Haiti has taught him that poverty, inequality, and political turmoil lead
inevitably to poor health outcomes among the vulnerable, and this belief fuels his
scholarly, clinical, advocacy, and charitable activities.
Paul Farmer began his lifelong commitment to Haiti when still a student, in 1983,
working with villages in Haiti's Central Plateau; the following year he began medical
school at Harvard, and two years later helped found Zanmi Lasante (Creole for Partners
In Health), serving as its medical director from 1991 to the present. Boston-based Partners
In Health was founded in 1987. Zanmi Lasant; which has grown from a one-building clinic in
the village of Cange to a multiservice health complex that includes a full-service hospital,
the Clinique Bon Sauveur, with 104 beds and two operating rooms; adult and pediatric inpatient
wards; a tuberculosis and HIV treatment facility (the Thomas J. White Pavilion); pediatric,
infectious disease, and general medicine clinics; a womem's health center;
clinic; dental services; outpatient facilities; laboratories; a pharmacy;
a drug depot/warehouse;
a blood bank; schools; housing, water, nutrition, social services, agricultural, microfinance,
and community health programs; and several
cottage industries. In the 1980s and 1990s,
Zanmi Lasante pioneered the treatment of both multidrug-resistant tuberculosis and HIV in Haiti.
This role was key in helping
Haiti qualify in 2002 among the first group of countries awarded
money from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; Haiti was actually the
in the world to receive these funds and begin employing them to fight disease.
A ringing endorsement of Partners In Health's community-based approach to health
the award has allowed Zanmi Lasante to expand its treatment facilities into neighboring
communities, where it is the only health-care provider for hundreds of thousands of peasant
farmers in the Central Plateau, and a model for poor communities world wide. Zanmi Lasante,
in partnership with the Haitian Ministry of Health, now operates at eight sites in the
Central Plateau and registered nearly 1 million patient encounters in 2004. The community-based
model of HIV prevention and treatment developed by Dr. Farmer and his colleagues in Haiti is
now being exported to rural Rwanda, Partners In Health's newest site, in collaboration with
the Rwandan Ministry
of Health and the Clinton Foundation.
With colleagues in Haiti and Peru, Dr. Farmer has helped lead the international response to
multidrug-resistant tuberculosis by establishing pilot treatment programs and organizing
effective delivery systems for medications. Working closely with the Open Society Institute,
he has participated in evaluations of TB treatment programs in Russia, Peru, Azerbaijan, Latvia,
and Kazakhstan, with a special interest in TB among prison populations. Dr. Farmer was instrumental
in establishing the World Health Organization's Working Group on MDR TB and has been a member of
the DOTS-Plus Working Group for the Global Tuberculosis Program of the World Health Organization;
Chief Advisor of Tuberculosis Programs of the Open Society Institute; Chief Medical Consultant for
the Tuberculosis Treatment Project in the Prisons of Tomsk (Siberia); and a member of the Scientific
Committee of the WHO Working Group on DOTS-Plus for MDR TB. He has served on the Scientific Review
board of several of the recent international conferences on AIDS, and has been a leading voice on
behalf of HIV/AIDS and MDR TB patients across the world.
As the Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Medical Anthropology in the Department of Social
Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Farmer has both taught in and served as director for
several courses in the Department. He also trains medical students, residents, and fellows at the
Brigham and Women's Hospital. He has been a visiting professor at institutions throughout the United
States as well as in France, Canada, Peru, the Netherlands, Russia, and Central Asia.
Author or co-author of over 100 scholarly publications, his research and writing stem in large part
from work in Haiti, Peru, Russia, and Rwanda, and from clinical and teaching activities. He is the
author of Pathologies of Power: Health Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor(University of
California Press, 2003); Infections and Inequalities(University of California Press, 1998);
The Uses of Haiti(Common Courage Press, 1994); and AIDS and Accusation(University of California Press, 1992).
In addition, he is co-editor of Women, Poverty, and AIDS(Common Courage Press, 1996)and ofThe Global Impact
of Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis(Harvard Medical School and Open Society Institute, 1999). He was a main
contributor to two field guides for medical personnel: The PIH Guide to the Medical Management of
Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis(Partners In Health, 2003)and The PIH Guide to the Community-Based
Treatment of HIV in Resource-Poor Settings(Partners In Health, 2004).
Among the numerous awards Dr. Farmer has received in the last decade are the Duke University Humanitarian
Award, the Margaret Mead Award from the American Anthropological Association, and the American Medical
Association's International Physician (Nathan Davis) Award. In 1993, he was awarded a John D. and Catherine T.
MacArthur Foundation "genius award" in recognition of his work. Perhaps no award so typifies Paul Farmer's
life and accomplishments, however, as the Heinz Award for the Human Condition, which he received in 2003.
"To say that Dr. Paul Farmer is a life saver does not begin to describe the impact of his work," said
Teresa Heinz, chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation. Dr. Farmer and his extraordinary organization
have been a force in making the world confront the health care needs of those who historically have never
had access to proper care. Because of his dedication and compassion, critical health care services are now
being administered around the globe to people who previously would have been left untreated.
In his acceptance of the Heinz Award, Paul Farmer reminded us all that "as members of the world community,
we must recognize that we can and should summon our collective resources to save the countless lives that
were previously alleged to be beyond our help." He believes we can do no less than this.
Dr. Farmer is the subject of Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who
Would Cure the World (Random House, 2003) by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder.
Dr. Farmer received his Bachelor's degree in 1982 from Duke University, and his M.D. and Ph.D.
(in Anthropology) simultaneously in 1990 from Harvard University. He and his wife, anthropologist
Didi Bertrand, divide their time between Haiti, Rwanda, the United States, and Paris.
They have a seven-year-old daughter, Catherine.
Mendel Medal Presentation Program, April 8, 2006. Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania.
Photograph courtesy of J.-P. Martin College de France