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Farewell, Dr Paul...

With great sadness we have just learnt of the death of Dr Paul Farmer yesterday in Rwanda.

Dr Farmer (or ‘Dr Paul’ as he was much better known by his patients) was an extraordinary physician. He was not just any old extraordinary doctor though (as if that weren’t enough), he was also a global expert in infectious disease (including HIV and TB), a medical anthropologist, a founder of Partners in health, a spokesperson for the poor, a constant warrior against racism, a valiant campaigner for social justice, and an inspiration to a generation of qualifying doctors.

He wrote extraordinary books about global medicine ("Pathologies of Power – Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor’’ is an excellent unflinching example), published copious medical research papers, and was an inspirational speaker (we have been serially re-inspired by reading To Repair the World: Paul Farmer Speaks to the Next Generation which is a transcript of some of his speeches).

His work took him to some of the most challenging environments (Haiti, the slums of Lima, overflowing prisons in post-Soviet Russia, and Rwanda amongst others) and everywhere he worked he left a legacy of what Partners in Health called ‘accompaniment’ – of total solidarity with his patients.

Others with more intimate knowledge of this great man will write more on this and do so with far more authority, but we hope that they don’t forget to mention his key message: that the right to survive for half of humanity is being tragically trampled in an age of affluence and biotechnical brilliance.

For us, his passing means that a precious beacon of light has gone out. The world has undoubtedly lost one of the truly good guys but despite this we have lost neither his message nor his inspiration, and so it is down to each of us to do our little bit to lighten the darkness as best we can.

The blurb on the back of ‘Pathologies of Power’ quoted from a review of the book in the New England Journal of Medicine. With tiny adaption the following two sentences sums this visionary physician up far better than we can:

There are many kinds of gifted physicians: clinicians, researchers, and those who build institutions (and he excelled in all of these things). Paul Farmer was, however, the rarest of all of these: he was also a prophet”.

You will shine on in our hearts, Dr Paul, but (now that you can finally put down your stethoscope) you must now rest in much deserved peace.


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