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PHR Mourns the Death of Dr. Paul Farmer, Champion of the Right to Health 

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) mourns the loss of Dr. Paul Farmer, trailblazing physician and social justice leader who founded the global public health organization Partners in Health. PHR shares its condolences with Dr. Farmer’s family, friends, colleagues, and the millions of people who he impacted over the course of his visionary life.  

The following statement is attributed to Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, medical director of Physicians for Human Rights, professor of internal medicine and public health at the University of Michigan, and a former student of Dr. Farmer:  

“Dr. Paul Farmer was a giant of global health and human rights. He truly exemplified the essential calling of physicians to be advocates for all patients, especially those who most suffer from inequitable distribution of resources. He was a champion for the human right to health and the principle that all people deserve high-quality health services and care.  

“Dr. Farmer was justly renowned for his indefatigable efforts to provide the highest quality of health care regardless of setting or income, as well as his innovative approaches to improving health care services in under-resourced places. Dr. Farmer’s co-founding of Partners in Health – a leading organization in effective health care and advocacy for the right to health – was truly visionary. Dr. Farmer also led cutting-edge scholarship on the intersections of political and socio-economic structures, power, and health, and his writings have inspired a generation of global health students and practitioners.  

“He also embodied the essential calling of physician as healer, mentor, and teacher. When I was a medical student at Harvard, I took every class he offered that I could and signed up for as many clinical rotations with him as possible. His warmth, kindness, and tireless enthusiasm inspired and energized me and everybody he worked with. He was never rushed and would sit with each patient and talk as if nobody were more important and he had nowhere else he needed to go. He approached his students and trainees in the same way, spending as much time as it took to explain, demonstrate, or learn about us and our dreams. He had an infectious sense of humor and brought out the best in all of us. His incandescence made us shine brighter. When some of us expressed a desire to learn Haitian Creole to better speak with our Haitian patients in Boston, he immediately organized class sessions and participated in them with us. He inspired students and forged partnerships from Boston to Kigali, from Mexico to Kazakhstan, and always with longstanding partners in Haiti. 

“Over the years, like many of his former students and trainees, I kept in touch with him and continued to seek his advice. It is hard to convey how much he inspired and influenced me – as he did so many others throughout the world. To honor Dr. Farmer, we must continue in his path and emulate him in our work, in our lives, in our relations with those around us. We must defend, uphold, and promote the right to health for all people, everywhere. And we must strive to do so with the joy, overwhelming spirit of love, and conviction of the dignity and worth of every human being that Dr. Farmer lived.” 

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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