In A World Where Resources Are
In a world where resources are abundant, everyone has equal access to medical care, but of course, such a world would be a utopia and the real world is a dystopia, with unequal medical care. However, Dr. Farmer dreams of such utopia world and puts his dream into actions. Dr. Farmer is a Harvard graduate who formed facilities containing resources needed for proper medical treatment, and helped control diseases, such as AIDS, which were once rampant throughout poverty-stricken countries. In this way, Farmer provided a model for transformed impoverished countries, lacking in healthcare, by shifting existing paradigms around economics and healthcare, and to become an inspiration for many to follow his lead so that the world may change for the better.
Though he had a prestigious education, Farmer wasn’t a stranger to poverty. He was born on October 26, 1959, in the aging mill town of North Adams, Massachusetts (Kidder 47). He was the second of six children (Kidder 47). In 1966, Farmer and his family moved to Birmingham to pursue a career in sales (Kidder 47). However, after his father decided that sales wasn’t for him, he moved his family to Florida so that he could teach at a public school (Kidder 48). They stowed all their belongings is a bus and headed straight for Brooksville, where they lived in their bus in a trailer park besides the woods (Kidder 49). When the family started running short of money, the three boys were required to pick citrus (Kidder 51). Later on, his dad bought a used boat, which his dad fixed, that became his new home, and commercial fishing became their main source of income (Kidder 51). As a child, Paul Farmer was described as “a scrawny boy, intense in anger and affection” and that “he had this huge brain” (Kidder 48). He was also motivated to do anything he set his mind to (Kidder 48). In his youth, Farmer looked up to Rudolf Virchow, a 19th century German physician and scientist, whose approach “encompassed biology, anthropology, and politics” (Paul Farmer, M.D.). After graduating from Hernando High School with a “full scholarship to Duke University”, Farmer explored a variety of science courses until he found his passion in medical anthropology (Paul Farmer, M.D.). During his college life, he met Sister Juliana, a Belgian nun, who “was working with the United Farm Workers to improve the living conditions of the laborers who harvested tobacco in North Carolina’s plantations” near Duke (Paul Farmer, M.D.). In those plantations, he soon came to know a few Haitian workers, whose poverty made his own childhood “seem luxurious” (Paul Farmer, M.D.). As he started listening to the stories that those Haitians had to offer, he became interested and began to learn more about Haiti (Paul Farmer, M.D.). While waiting for his acceptance into Harvard Medical, Farmer made his way to Haiti to work in public health clinics, master the Creole language, and to learn more about the country (Paul Farmer, M.D.).
Before Farmer came to Haiti, the country was in great disaster and political turmoil. The 20 year occupation by the U.S. provided no assistance to alleviate the poverty issue in Haiti, but only to protect foreign business interests (Paul Farmer, M.D.). When Dr. Farmer arrived in 1983, Haiti was under the oppressive rule of the Duvalier family, who ruled through terror and suppressing all opposition (Paul Farmer, M.D.). Haiti’s healthcare system was inaccessible to the poverty stricken people (Paul Farmer, M.D.). “Malaria, tuberculosis, and typhoid were rampant” (Paul Farmer, M.D.). The tragedy before Farmer inspired him to build a clinic that would treat patients regardless of their economic background, and to train and employ medical staff (Paul Farmer, M.D.).
Beginning his plan for a better world, Farmer secured funding for a small charity called Project Bread in order to build a bakery in Cange, Haiti (Paul Farmer, M.D.). This bakery was created to address the chronic malnutrition in the region (Paul Farmer, M.D.). “In 1983, Dr. Paul Farmer and Ophelia Dahl worked with several Haitian leaders in the village of Cange” established Zanmi Lasante, a community-based health project (Partner’s In Health’s Work in Haiti). Zanmi Lasante was a small clinic which later transformed into a full-medical complex that included a 104 beds (Partner’s In Health’s Work in Haiti). With the limited resources and obstacles that Haiti placed, Dr. Paul Farmer created innovative therapies to cure diseases, such as curing tuberculosis, “for a hundredth of the amount that treating the same disease would cost in a U.S. hospital” (Paul Farmer, M.D.). For this, he earned a $220,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation which he used to fund a research program called the Institute for Health and Social Justice (Paul Farmer, M.D.). In addition to his success in tackling TB, he started a AIDS program which was successful in combating one of the original problems in Haiti’s epidemic (Paul Farmer, M.D.). By 1999, the rate of HIV transmission from mother to child was less than 4% which is half of the rate in America (Paul Farmer, M.D.). After seeing this amazing improvement in Haiti, the “World Health Organization adopted [Zanmi Lasante’s] methods for controlling AIDS in over 30 countries” (Paul Farmer, M.D.). Zanmi Lasante also provided vaccination for all children in the area, which decreased infant mortality (Paul Farmer, M.D.). In addition to providing treatment for everyone, Dr. Paul Farmer made sure that Zanmi Lasante also implemented “social and economic programs in nutrition, agriculture, water and sanitation, and education” (Partner’s In Health’s Work in Haiti). It now serves and area of 1.2 million and employs over 400 staff (Partner’s In Health’s Work in Haiti). Zanmi Lasante was only the sister organization of a much larger one, Partners in Health.
Dr. Paul Farmer founded Partners in Health in 1987 whose goal is to provide equal medical care to everyone of all economic background (Vine). This is crucial to millions around the world who can’t get even the basic medical treatment that they need. Dr. Farmer not only brings them the essential treatment, but also advance medicine with facilities said to be better than U.S. hospitals (Vine). PIH expanded its help to other countries besides Haiti, such as Rwinkwavu (Africa’s Medicine Man). When Farmer and his team arrived in Rwinkwavu, there were “600,000 people living in the are and no doctors” (Africa’s Medicine Man). Fortunately, Farmer was able to transform a Belgian Mining Company into a hospital. Today, Rwinkwavu has a functional hospital and trained scores of local health workers treating “more than 1000 HIV patients (Africa’s Medicine Man). PIH now serves around 2.4 million people annually, in twelve countries (Vine).
Farmer understands that the global despair is impossible for a single man to conquer, but he does not use this as an excuse for inaction. Instead, he chose to use his actions to inspire the greater world, so that many will follow his steps towards a world with equal medical care. Dr. Jean-Louis Willy Fils is one doctor who was inspired by Farmer. He said that “if a foreigner can come in and help restore a suffering country, a Haitian should be able to do the same and to spread medical equality everywhere”. In addition to this, he shined light on spreading solidarity, which is to not only to provide medical treatment, but also to go out there and address the root cause of the problem (Africa’s Medicine Man). This is what PIH and Zanmi Lasante set out to do, which allowed diseases to be more controlled and eliminated quicker. Farmer also called attention to structural violence, which are everyday problems such as poverty, hunger, and poor health, that can be “as deadly as the violence of bullets and war” (Vine). He spread this message in books that he wrote, which attracted support from numerous philanthropists (Paul Farmer, M.D.). In 2002, Dr. Farmer received a $13 million grant from Global Fund to improve the Cange Complex because of his books. Finally, he changed the way how humans should approach global health and to improve countless lives in impoverished countries.
Today, Moeketsi Ts’osane, a Mosotho teen who was once diagnosed with MDR-TB (a drug resistant TB), is now living a healthy life, participating in a recreational soccer league (Dauntless Lesotho man defeats MDR-TB, defies family history). Lunie Lozama, a 2 year-old Haitian girl who once suffered from severe malnutrition and on the brink of death, now leads a life of a normal, nourished child playing in the dirt roads of Haiti. The organizations that Dr. Paul Farmer has set up are spreading to all corners of the earth, bringing Farmer’s revolutionary medical treatment that transform countries inundated with diseases to a country with a viable medical system able to treat such illnesses. It is being a spark that lit the flame for a cause to fight against poverty and unequal healthcare that makes him a catalyst for change.