Remembering Dr. Paul Farmer

February 24, 2022

By: Andres F. Diaz, Chief Editor of The New Physician Magazine

On February 21, 2022, the world lost one of the most influential humanitarians of our time. Dr. Paul Farmer, a towering figure of global health equity, a champion of human rights, and an inspiration to millions, passed away at the age of 62. Farmer is survived by his wife, Didi Bertrand Farmer, and their three children.

Farmer’s passing was met with an outpouring of love and poignant memories. For many, Farmer epitomized the ideal of health care as a fundamental human right. He devoted his career to working for and in defense of the underserved, stigmatized, and disenfranchised. His tireless journey to normalize a “preferential option for the poor”—an adage that embodied his life’s work—stirred generations of future global health advocates and medical professionals.

Through his work, Farmer confronted the status-quo. For decades, many global health leaders deemed it impossible and cost-prohibitive to bring modern medical services and medications to the world’s poorest. Farmer rejected this idea. Instead, he revealed that, under guise of cost-effectiveness, exists underlying biases, misconceptions, colonial undertones, and systems of oppression that prevent the equitable distribution of medicine. Working in Haiti, Rwanda and beyond—tackling malnutrition, tuberculosis, HIV, and other plagues—Farmer and his colleagues demonstrated emphatically that providing world-class health care for the poor is not only possible, but also a moral responsibility.

AMSA had the honor to have Dr. Farmer share his vision for the future during the 2009 Annual Convention. In his talk, Farmer forced us to reckon with the realities of health inequity. He compelled us to imagine a world where people do not suffer from lack of food or from treatable diseases. Most importantly, he challenged us to defy the ambivalence that often comes from living in privilege, detached from the suffering of our fellow human beings.

In memory of Dr. Paul Farmer, we, as AMSA members, MUST fight against health injustice wherever it occurs. We MUST advocate for accessible medical care, affordable medicine, and the establishment of systems that support health equity. We MUST train future medical professionals that have the tenacity to confront the global health challenges of the 21st century. And we MUST adhere to the principle that health care is not a privilege, but a fundamental human right.

Dr. Farmer’s legacy of medical humanitarianism endures through the countless people he inspired to act against oppression, ambivalence, and injustice. Although we mourn his loss, we also honor his incredible contribution to humanity and the standard of compassion, excellence, and selflessness that he established for future generations to follow. There is work left to be done. We must now carry the torch.

We offer our sincerest condolences to Dr. Farmer’s friends and loved ones, the Partners in Health family, his colleagues around the world, and to the many patients whose lives he touched.

Rest in Power, Dr. Paul Farmer.

Andres F. Diaz is Chief Editor of The New Physician Magazine. He is an MD/PhD candidate at the University of Arizona with a passion for oncology, addressing cancer care disparities, and improving health literacy. @AndresFDiaz10