Dr Farmer, world humanitarian leader, dies at 62

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By Steve LeBlanc and Danica Coto | Associated press

BOSTON — Dr. Paul Farmer, an American physician, humanitarian and author renowned for providing health care to millions of poor people around the world and who co-founded the global nonprofit Partners in Health, has died. He was 62 years old.

The Boston-based organization confirmed Farmer’s death on Monday, calling it “devastating” and noting that he died unexpectedly in his sleep of an acute cardiac event while in Rwanda, where he taught.

Farmer was a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of the Global Health Equity Division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He has written extensively on health, human rights and social inequality, according to Partners in Health.

“A compassionate physician and infectious disease specialist, a brilliant and influential medical anthropologist, and among the greatest humanitarians of our time – perhaps of all time – Paul has dedicated his life to improving human health and advocating global health equity and social justice,” George Q. Daley, dean of Harvard Medical School, wrote in a statement.

Partners in Health, founded in 1987, said its mission was to “provide a preferential option for the poor in health care”. The organization began its work in Cange, a rural village in Haiti’s central plateau, and later expanded its operations to regions such as Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder, who wrote the non-fiction book “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World,” told The Associated Press that the two had traveled together for a month while Farmer treated prisoners and destitute people in Haiti, Moscow and Paris.

“He was an important figure in the world,” Kidder said. “He had a way of looking around corners and connecting things. He obviously couldn’t go and heal the whole world on his own, but he could, with the help of his friends, prove a possibility.

One of Kidder’s strongest memories of Farmer occurred in Peru, where the doctor was treating patients with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. Kidder recalled a woman wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt who followed them to their car, looking very shy.

With her head bowed, she said “Thank you” to Farmer in Spanish. Kidder recalled, “Paul turned around, took each of his hands in his, and said, ‘For me, it’s a privilege,’ in Spanish.”

He added that Farmer was instrumental in getting AIDS treatment and creating various healthcare systems around the world.

“It really humiliates the naysayers, who think it’s somehow okay for some people to get health care and some people aren’t,” Kidder said. “It just drove him crazy.”

Michelle Karshan, vice president of a nonprofit prison healthcare system in Haiti who worked closely with Farmer, said he was determined, innovative and always knew how to navigate obstacles and bureaucracy. .

“He didn’t take no for an answer,” she said. “He believed that no one was too poor or too illiterate to have the right to receive health care.”

She noted that when the World Health Organization resisted administering HIV drugs to illiterate people in Haiti for fear they wouldn’t know when or how to take them, Farmer set up his own program. and created a chart that relied on the position of the sun. He also hired people known as “attendants,” who walked through Haiti’s rugged mountainous terrain to make sure patients had water, food and took their medication.

“I’m so sad for all the people who won’t have him in their life. He was there for everyone,” Karshan said.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry praised Farmer’s work, as did former US President Bill Clinton.

“Paul Farmer changed the way health care is delivered in the poorest places on the planet. He viewed each day as a new opportunity to teach, learn, give and serve — and it was impossible to spend time with him and not feel the same,” Clinton said in a statement.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with thousands of cases reported daily in Massachusetts, local health departments were overwhelmed with the task of contact tracing to help slow the spread of the disease.

The state launched a contact tracing collaboration in April 2020 and asked Partners in Health to lead the initiative, which made more than 2.7 million calls to residents at a total cost of about $158 million. dollars, depending on the state.

Farmer is survived by his Haitian wife, Didi Bertrand Farmer, and their three children.

Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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