Paul Farmer, Medical Visionary
February 22, 2022
Summary: Paul Farmer, an inspirational leader in global health, passed away, too young at 62. His powerful vision for social justice in health should guide us to single payer in the US and to use the resulting huge savings to improve health around the world.
Paul Farmer, a physician, anthropologist and humanitarian who gained global acclaim for his work delivering high-quality health care to some of the world’s poorest people, died on Monday on the grounds of a hospital and university he had helped establish in Butaro, Rwanda. He was 62.
“There are so many people that are alive because of that man,” Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a brief interview, adding that she wanted to compose herself before speaking further.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s top medical adviser, broke down in tears during an interview, in which he said he and Dr. Farmer had been like “soul brothers.”
Quotes from Paul Farmer
Oct. 26, 1959 – Feb. 21, 2022
“I critique market-based medicine not because I haven’t seen its heights but because I’ve seen its depths.”
“I mean, everybody should have access to medical care. And, you know, it shouldn’t be such a big deal.”
“But if you’re asking my opinion, I would argue that a social justice approach should be central to medicine and utilized to be central to public health. This could be very simple: the well should take care of the sick.”
Comment by: Jim Kahn
Paul Farmer was a determined and inspiring moral leader in global health. I had the pleasure of knowing Paul a little, and the rough experience once of taking a more pragmatic view than Paul’s unyielding belief that everyone deserves world class medical care, wherever they live. He set the bar high, and millions benefited from that perspective. He was brilliant, indefatigable, and kind. I mourn his passing, and dearly hope that his vision derives broader support from the accolades that are already being offered.
In the United States, with its vast resources, there is no excuse for not providing universal health coverage. As Paul wrote, market medicine sinks to unacceptable depths; everybody should have access to medical care; and social justice should be central to medicine.
With single payer, the argument sometimes offered by economists like me that we can’t afford to do everything falls away. Because, as you all know, single payer shifts the waste in our health care market into meeting all care needs for everyone. And indeed, we would achieve enough extra savings to massively boost US support for global health efforts.
Let’s honor Paul Farmer by passing single payer in the US, and by multiplying medical resources for needy countries around the world.