A humanitarian with a sense of humor, Paul Farmer, MD, PhD, chief of BWH’s Division of Global Health Equity and co-founder of Partners In Health (PIH), riveted a Bornstein Amphitheater audience with his keynote address at BWH Research Day on Nov. 21.
Farmer, a physician and anthropologist, took attendees through personal experiences of fostering global health work in Haiti, Rwanda and beyond.
Before warmly introducing Farmer, BWH President Betsy Nabel, MD, told attendees, “I hope you learned something new today, met someone new or came up with a new idea.”
Research Day, a BluePrint-themed event organized and sponsored by BWH’s Biomedical Research Institute (BRI), was packed with dynamic, thought-provoking sessions, stimulating posters and countless opportunities for networking and making connections.
In 1987, Farmer, a graduate of Harvard Medical School and BWH’s internal medicine residency program, founded PIH with his colleagues and friends Jim Kim, MD, PhD, now president of the World Bank, Ophelia Dahl, Todd McCormack and Thomas White, in order to support global health initiatives in Haiti.
PIH has expanded its mission to providing a preferential health care option for the poor. The organization establishes long-term relationships with sister organizations based in settings of poverty, bringing the benefits of modern medical science to those most in need and serving as an antidote to despair. The organization trains community members in the globe’s poorest and sickest communities to be their own advocates, provide health care and conduct research.
“The notion of a teaching hospital is very, very powerful, and it can’t be done without a research component,” said Farmer. “Being the first division and residency program in the nation, we’re at the epicenter of global health equity. What’s important to understand is that so much of the field is about building a platform for research methodologies and a research training service.”
Farmer detailed lessons learned from the building and opening of Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais, Haiti’s new teaching hospital, earlier this year.
“When we went there, 60 percent of Haitians were displaced from the catastrophic earthquake,” he said. “There was no hospital and no platform. We took over an abandoned hospital.”
Recognizing their expertise and insight, Farmer and his PIH colleagues partnered with Haitians who were already working to rebuild their community in order to develop the tools and deliver the medical care that was desperately needed. In the first five weeks alone, more than 4,000 patients came through the new hospital’s doors. “We kept hearing from residents, ‘We want local training linked to service delivery, and we want to do research.'”
Farmer also spoke about PIH’s other mission areas, including Rwanda, Russia, Peru and Lesotho (a small landlocked country in South Africa) and the complex issues surrounding drug-resistant tuberculosis. To date, PIH and its BWH partners have treated the largest cohort of people with drug-resistant tuberculosis, accounting for 15,000 people.
“Thank you to BWH for supporting us and letting us do our job properly,” said Farmer. “My global health equity vision is intrinsically linked to community-based care, and that has to be home-based care.”