Dr. Paul Farmer, a physician who championed global health and sought to bring modern medical science to those most in need around the world, died unexpectedly in his sleep in Rwanda on Monday, according to Partners in Health, the nonprofit organization he founded. He was 62.
Farmer, who was also an infectious disease specialist and a medical anthropologist, is survived by his wife, Didi Bertrand Farmer, and three children.
Partners in Health CEO Dr. Sheila Davis said in a statement, “Paul Farmer’s loss is devastating, but his vision for the world will live on through Partners in Health. Paul taught all those around him the power of accompaniment, love for one another, and solidarity. Our deepest sympathies are with his wife and three children.”
Partners in Health, founded in 1987, had two goals: to bring the benefits of modern medical science to those most in need of them and to serve as an antidote to despair.
In addition to the work he did as co-founder and chief strategist of Partners in Health, Farmer was chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He was a prolific writer and authored numerous books, including “Partner to the Poor.”
The global medical community responded in shock and dismay to news of Farmer’s death.
“We grieve,” tweeted Kimberlyn Leary, senior vice president at the Urban Institute. “A giant of a person for whom no other person was less.”
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Twitter, “I am devastated by the loss of Paul Farmer – a friend, mentor, and unparalleled visionary for global public health. Countless people are alive because of his investment in public health infrastructure, in direct care delivery, and in selflessly training other to do the same.”
Farmer’s life’s work was the delivery of high-quality health care in resource-poor settings.
In 2017, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta visited Haiti to tour and work in University Hospital, the 300-bed, state-of-the-art facility that Partners in Health built in Mirebalais.
The hospital had intensive care units for adults and infants, a emergency ward and an oncology unit for cancer patients.
Gupta noted that Farmer functioned under the belief that the “location and circumstances of your birth should never dictate that quality of your care.”
Though Partners in Health was active around the world, Farmer and his organization continued to be mindful of health care needs closer to home, too.
During the pandemic, Farmer recognized that the US public health system didn’t have enough workers to do effective contact tracing to stop the spread of Covid-19. He partnered with the state of Massachusetts to bolster its work force and expanded to bring contact tracing to the Navajo Nation and Mexico.
“Paul was an inspiration, one of the people who drew me (and many others) to global health. My thoughts are with this his family who must be reeling at this unexpected and tragic event,” wrote Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund, on Twitter.