‘I Just Came Across Kindness’: Humanitarian Paul Farmer Dies

Feb. 22, 2022 — Paul Edward Farmer, MD, a famend infectious illness specialist, humanitarian, and well being care champion for most of the world’s most susceptible affected person populations, died all of a sudden in his sleep from a cardiac occasion Monday in Rwanda, the place he had been educating. He was 62.

Farmer co-founded the Boston-based international nonprofit Companions in Well being and spent many years offering well being care to impoverished communities worldwide, preventing on the frontline to guard underserved communities towards lethal pandemics.

Farmer was the Kolokotrones College professor and chair of the Division of World Well being and Social Medication within the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical Faculty. He served as chief of the Division of World Well being Fairness at Brigham and Ladies’s Hospital.

“Paul devoted his life to bettering human well being and advocating for well being fairness and social justice on a worldwide scale,” Harvard Medical Faculty Dean George Q. Daley mentioned in a letter to the varsity. “I’m notably shaken by his passing as a result of he was not solely a consummate colleague and a beloved mentor, however an in depth buddy. To me, Paul represented the guts and soul of Harvard Medical Faculty.”

He was additionally chancellor and co-founder of the College of World Well being Fairness in Rwanda. Earlier than his demise, he had spent the previous a number of weeks educating on the college.

“Paul Farmer’s loss is devastating, however his imaginative and prescient for the world will reside on by way of Companions in Well being,” Sheila Davis, CEO of the nonprofit well being group, mentioned in an announcement. “Paul taught all these round him the ability of accompaniment, love for each other, and solidarity. Our deepest sympathies are along with his household.”

Farmer was born in North Adams, MA, and grew up in Florida along with his dad and mom and 5 siblings. He attended Duke College on a Benjamin N. Duke Scholarship and obtained his medical diploma in 1988, adopted by and his PhD in 1990 from Harvard College.

His humanitarian work started when he was a school pupil volunteering in Haiti in 1983, working with dispossessed farmers. In 1987, he co-founded Companions in Well being with the objective of serving to sufferers in poverty-stricken corners of the world.

Beneath Farmer’s management, the nonprofit tackled main public well being crises: Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, drug-resistant tuberculosis in Peru and different international locations, and an Ebola outbreak that tore by way of West Africa.

Farmer documented his 2014-2015 expertise treating Africa’s Ebola sufferers in a ebook known as Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds: Ebola and the Ravages of Historical past.

He wrote that by the point he had arrived, “western Sierra Leone was floor zero of the epidemic, and Higher West Africa was simply in regards to the worst place on this planet to be critically sick or injured.”

Considered one of his biggest qualities was his means to attach with sufferers — to deal with them “not like ones who suffered, however like a pal you’d joke with,” mentioned Pardis Sabeti, MD, PhD, a Harvard College geneticist who additionally frolicked in Africa and famously sequenced samples of the Ebola virus’s genome.

Sabeti and Farmer bonded over their love for Sierra Leone, together with their grief over shedding an in depth colleague to Ebola: Humarr Khan, who was one of many space’s main infectious illness specialists.

Sabeti first met Farmer years earlier as a first-year Harvard medical pupil when she enrolled in one in all his programs. She mentioned college students launched themselves, one after the other, every veering into heartfelt testimonies about what Farmer’s work had meant to them.

Farmer and Sabeti have been simply texting on Saturday, and the 2 have been, “goofing round in our typical means, and scheming about how you can make the world higher, as we all the time did.”

Farmer was humorous, mischievous, and above all, precisely what you’d count on upon assembly him, Sabeti mentioned.

“It’s cliché, however the energetic kick you get from simply being in his presence, it’s nearly otherworldly,” she mentioned. “It’s not even otherworldly within the sense of, ‘I simply got here throughout greatness.’ It’s extra, ‘I simply got here throughout kindness.’”

Farmer’s work has been broadly distributed in publications together with Bulletin of the World Well being Group, The Lancet, TheNew England Journal of Medication, Medical Infectious Ailments, and Social Science and Medication.

He was awarded the 2020 Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Tradition, the Margaret Mead Award from the American Anthropological Affiliation, the American Medical Affiliation’s Excellent Worldwide Doctor (Nathan Davis) Award, and, along with his Companions in Well being colleagues, the Hilton Humanitarian Prize.

He’s survived by his spouse, Didi Bertrand Farmer, and their three youngsters.

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