Today, the world lost a towering figure of global health equity, a champion of human rights and one of the greatest humanitarians of our lifetime.
Dr. Paul Farmer devoted his career to working for and in defense of the poor, underserved, stigmatized and disenfranchised. His tireless commitment to a “preferential option for the poor” in health care — an adage that embodied his life’s work — inspired an entire generation of future global health advocates and medical professionals.
Dr. Farmer questioned ideas of “cost-effective” medical care in low-resource settings and, in doing so, revealed underlying biases, misconceptions and systematic mechanisms that prevent the equitable administration of health care in the world’s poorest nations. His work in Haiti, Rwanda, Russia and beyond demonstrated emphatically that world-class health care can and — more importantly — should be provided for all peoples around the world.
In 2015, I had the honor to work briefly with Dr. Farmer and his colleagues at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Although our project primarily focused on tuberculosis health education and tracking multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, his mentorship and vision transformed the work into a deeper exploration of medical colonialism, health inequity and structural violence. Years after these brief yet meaningful conversations, I am still unpacking and dissecting his words, striving every day to incorporate his lessons into my life and career as a future physician.
For many at the College of Medicine – Tucson, Dr. Farmer epitomized the ideal of health care as a fundamental human right. Through the Commitment for Underserved Peoples Program, Rural Health Professions Program and the Global & Border Health Program, the College of Medicine – Tucson strives to uphold this ideal. As members of an institution established on the land of indigenous peoples, devoted to caring for the diverse peoples of the Southwestern United States, and responsible for the care of a large refugee population, we must continue to support and expand these programs. Not only because it is a moral responsibility, but because it is at the core of what it means to be a healer.
Dr. Farmer’s legacy of medical humanitarianism and service endures through the countless people he inspired to act against oppression, ambivalence, poverty and health injustice. He set a high standard that we must uphold.
My heart, and that of many, is heavy today. But the work is not done. We must now carry the torch.
Rest in Power, Dr. Paul Farmer.
Andres F. Diaz, MS
University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson