Dr. Paul Farmer, the cofounder of Partners in Health, died unexpectedly, the organization announced Monday.
Farmer, 62, died in his sleep while he was in Rwanda, Partners in Health said. Farmer was professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of the division of global health equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and he was a longtime advocate for access to quality health care in some of the world’s most impoverished countries.
“Paul Farmer’s loss is devastating, but his vision for the world will live on through Partners in Health,” said Dr. Sheila Davis in a statement. Davis is chief executive officer of the group. “Paul taught all those around him the power of accompaniment, love for one another, and solidarity.”
He is survived by Didi Bertrand Farmer and their three children, Partners in Health said.
Farmer, who is both a physician and an anthropologist, helped found Partners in Health in 1987 with the mission of expanding access to health care to some of the world’s most under-resourced areas. The organization calls itself “a social justice organization that responds to the moral imperative to provide high-quality health care globally to those who need it most.”
Partners in Health now operates in nearly a dozen locales in regions such as Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, according to its website. The organization says last year it helped provide nearly 3 million outpatient visits in supported clinics, more than 2 million women’s health check-ups, and over 2 million home visits conducted by community health workers.
In 2020, Farmer was awarded the prestigious $1 million Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture. At the time, Kwame Anthony Appiah, chairman of the Berggruen Prize jury and professor of philosophy and law at New York University noted that Farmer had transformed “how we think about infectious diseases, social inequality, and caring for others while standing in solidarity with them.”
“He has reshaped our understanding not just of what it means to be sick or healthy but also of what it means to treat health as a human right and the ethical and political obligations that follow,” Appiah said in a statement at the time.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Farmer and his colleagues at Partners in Health developed the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 contact tracing protocol.
Farmer leaves behind an acclaimed legacy, both in Boston’s medical community and the wider world of global public health care. Just moments after the organization announced his death Monday, reaction began pouring in.
“Paul was one of the most extraordinary people we have ever known,” wrote former president Bill Clinton, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and daughter Chelsea Clinton in a statement. “His pioneering work with Partners In Health touched millions of lives, advanced global health equity, and fundamentally changed the way health care is delivered in the most impoverished places on Earth. He was brilliant, passionate, kind, and humble. He saw every day as a new opportunity to teach, learn, give, and serve—and it was impossible to spend any amount of time with him and not feel the same.”
“I am just gutted,” the surgeon and author Atul Gawande wrote on Twitter. “Paul, friend to so many, champion for billions, inspiration to all, it cannot be that you are gone. I will always remember our late night chats in @BrighamWomens ICU about life, our patients, and how global health just means health for everyone, everywhere.”
Samantha Power, the USAID administrator and former US ambassador to the United Nations, also called the news “devastating.”
“Paul Farmer gave everything—everything—to others. He saw the worst, and yet did all he could to bring out the best in everyone he encountered. Indefatigable, mischievous, generous, brilliant, soulful, skeptical, idealistic, beloved. A giant.”
I am just gutted.
Paul, friend to so many, champion for billions, inspiration to all, it cannot be that you are gone.
— Atul Gawande (@GawandeUSAID) February 21, 2022
Devastating news. Paul Farmer gave everything—everything—to others. He saw the worst, and yet did all he could to bring out the best in everyone he encountered. Indefatigable, mischievous, generous, brilliant, soulful, skeptical, idealistic, beloved. A giant. https://t.co/x4Ug2KGGq7
— Samantha Power (@SamanthaJPower) February 21, 2022
This is devastating news. An entire generation of global health advocates, including me, was challenged and inspired by the writing of Paul Farmer. Here’s a pic from when he visited us in Ottawa a few years ago. Deep sympathy to his whole family. https://t.co/7JIGPo7LO5 pic.twitter.com/2jRch3B94r
— Jane Philpott (@janephilpott) February 21, 2022
I can’t begin to count the ways in which knowing Dr. Paul Farmer changed my life. He was an inspiration, a transformative thinker, a friend, a health justice North Star, and a complex boss. He pushed us all to do better. He had not finished teaching. I will miss you Paul ??? pic.twitter.com/a8A1mfx4ab
— Louise Ivers MD MPH (@drlouiseivers) February 21, 2022
What a huge, huge loss. Paul Farmer saved lives on a huge scale. He was selfless, brilliant, funny, sweet and compassionate. He created @PIH one of the most effective organizations ever combating disease world wide. My heart goes out to his friends and beautiful family. https://t.co/tVHERCQSS7
— Ben Stiller (@RedHourBen) February 21, 2022