The Legacy of Dr. Paul Farmer and the Origins of Global Health Equity

Dr. Paul Farmer (Photo by John Ra / Partners In Health)

On November 19th, 2023, friends, colleagues, and family of the late Dr. Paul Farmer gathered at Harvard Medical School to reflect on his life’s work and lasting impact. Farmer, who passed away suddenly in 2022, was a pioneer in global health equity and social medicine. His career began with work in Haiti in the 1980s, which profoundly shaped his approach to healthcare. Farmer later went on to co-found the nonprofit Partners In Health to deliver healthcare in impoverished regions globally.

Speakers at the symposium emphasized Farmer’s legacy of tirelessly serving vulnerable populations and his belief that a patient’s suffering should be the foremost concern, above any challenges for the provider. His insights linking poverty to health outcomes were initially dismissed, but later validated through research.

Several speakers credited Farmer with bringing international attention to Haiti’s needs. His partnership with local organizations laid the groundwork for Haitians to gain agency in improving their nation’s health systems. Farmer inspired generations of healthcare workers to adopt his “why not” attitude in tackling daunting problems with optimism.

The symposium demonstrated how one committed individual can have an outsized impact. Farmer’s willingness to listen to marginalized voices, and place their suffering above his own, led him to pioneer more equitable, compassionate care worldwide. His legacy continues through those carrying on his work to alleviate suffering and spread opportunity.

Read a summary of the symposium in The Harvard Gazette.

Watch the complete symposium here:

Recorded live on November 13 at the Paul Farmer Symposium on Global Health Equity—The Uses of Haiti: Paul Farmer and the Origins of the Global Health Equity Movement. Paul’s experience in Haiti greatly shaped his intellectual and moral understanding of the world. Haiti has long been a force in the movement for global health equity—from being the first free Black republic to being the place where HIV community-based care was proven possible. It is the home of lessons learned, philosophies and care delivery models developed, and where Haitian global health professionals continue to shape the global health landscape. We will hear from experts, thought leaders, and Paul’s colleagues and friends on the importance of Haiti and how Paul’s vision and legacy remain vibrant today, in Haiti and globally.

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