The world mourns the death of Dr. Paul Farmer this week. His name may not be familiar to many, but he actually has a special connection to Colorado Academy. Dr. Farmer was a medical pioneer who devoted his life to serving some of the poorest people in the world, working to ensure that they had access to health care. After graduating from medical school, he went to Haiti, created a health care system called Partners in Health, and served the people of that poor nation. When Haiti was more politically stable, CA’s Global Travel program took students on service-learning trips to that nation. We worked alongside Road to Hope, a nonprofit created by Colorado Academy’s own Harris family. It was standard on these trips to visit the Partners in Health facilities and tour the original hospital that Dr. Farmer established. He had a vision of a network of clinics, staffed by local residents. To implement this, he raised millions of dollars from philanthropists all over the globe. He eventually was able to take his work to Africa, where he died unexpectedly earlier this week.
As a doctor, Farmer put his patients first. Sometimes he would walk miles to make sure patients were taking their medication on schedule. When HIV hit hard in Haiti, he proved to other western doctors that patients in poor, rural areas could be taught about how to protect their health by taking antiviral medications. His work was documented in Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains: the Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World. He was a believer in empowering locals to confront the systemic health issues that they faced. Billions of dollars have been sent to Haiti from other nations, but that aid has done little to move the needle on the desperate poverty there. Farmer noted, “It’s not just about health security, in the senses of defending yourself….It’s not just about charity, although that’s not so bad. It’s also about pragmatic solidarity with those in need of assistance.”
In a world that seems engulfed with problems, it can be easy to be cynical. Paul Farmer rejected that, saying, “Cynicism is a dead end.” But, addressing world problems requires action and taking a bold stand. Farmer was uncompromising in his view of the power systems that affect the lives of the poor. We have seen other public figures be steadfast in their beliefs, but only a special few actually go out to places like Haiti and take action. He sacrificed much on behalf of others and is a model to our children for what one person can do to change the world.