Paul Farmer, Founder, Partners in Health
Description: Difficult as it is to look beyond the acute misery of Haiti's current crisis, Paul Farmer proposes that aid agencies and others concerned with rebuilding focus on the nation's "old, chronic problems." There's no shortage of recovery ideas, he says, but these will go nowhere if they do not also advance the long"neglected, basic rights of Haitians.
Farmer describes efforts to respond to Haiti's disastrous earthquake of January 2010, which killed hundreds of thousands, left 1.3 million homeless and much of the capital in ruins. Today, nearly a year later, the generous pledges of international aid have yet to materialize, says Farmer, and the peril has expanded to include a cholera outbreak. This picture is all the bleaker for the deaths of many of Farmer's collaborators. The earthquake destroyed invaluable "human infrastructure", says Farmer, including all the nursing students at Haiti's one public nursing school.
Farmer has been working in Haiti for more than a decade, attempting to address not just malnutrition, HIV and tuberculosis, but larger issues such as Haitians' lack of access to clean water, public education and healthcare. He would like to see international aid groups and foreign powers involved with Haiti recognize these issues in a meaningful way. Farmer's long"standing strategy has been to engage Haiti's public sector, or what remains after years of military and U.S. proxy rule, in the fight for these rights. He says, "There is always a role for the promotion of basic rightsThe question is how to do this in the field, not just win an argument in seminar."
The earthquake has profoundly deepened Haiti's need for essential public institutions. The 1,000"plus tent cities housing more than a million people in Port au Prince are swelling, not diminishing, because people cannot find potable water anywhere else, and most have no idea where their next meal will come from. Yet there is a push to expel people from their tents and tarps, says Farmer, as if that will somehow speed construction of more permanent residences. Many plans are afoot for such housing, he says -- but few that take into account the desires of Haitians, who should have agency in shaping their own future. Rebuilding Haiti, Farmer believes, means "rebuilding aid machinery which is very broken, and often a damaging thing." He is forging new alliances among Haitians and other aid partners, including Cubans and evangelical groups from the U.S., around water projects, and a new hospital that will be "big, green and public." Says Farmer, "We must make common cause with those seeking to provide basic rights."
About the Speaker(s): Medical anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer is a founding director of Partners In Health, an international charity organization that provides direct health care services and undertakes research and advocacy activities on behalf of those who are sick and living in poverty. He is medical director of a charity hospital, the Clinique Bon Sauveur, in rural Haiti and he is also the UN Deputy Special Envoy to for Haiti, under Special Envoy Bill Clinton.
Farmer has written extensively about health and human rights, and about the role of social inequalities in the distribution and outcome of infectious diseases. He is the author of Pathologies of Power (University of California Press, 2003); Infections and Inequalities (University of California Press, 1998); The Uses of Haiti (Common Courage Press, 1994); and AIDS and Accusation (University of California Press, 1992). In addition, he is co"editor of Women, Poverty, and AIDS, (Common Courage Press, 1996) and of The Global Impact of Drug"Resistant Tuberculosis (Harvard Medical School and Open Society Institute, 1999).
Farmer is the recipient of the Duke University Humanitarian Award, the Margaret Mead Award from the American Anthropological Association, the American Medical Association's Outstanding International Physician (Nathan Davis) Award, and the Heinz Humanitarian Award. In 1993, he was awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "genius award" in recognition of his work.
Farmer is the subject of Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World (Random House, 2003).
Farmer received his Bachelor's degree from Duke University and his M.D. and Ph.D. from Harvard University.
Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Program in Science, Technology and Society
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