It was with deep personal sadness that I learned of Paul Farmer’s unexpected death on February 21, 2022, in Rwanda. Paul and I have been close friends and colleagues ever since he was a faculty member in the department of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the 1990s. His passion to serve the poor and underserved reminded me of my roots and continues to inspire me every day in my work and life. I may have begun as Paul’s department chair and mentor, but I was soon the one learning from him. I watched with pride and awe as he developed an expansive and fearless vision to provide the highest quality health care to the poorest people around the world.
When Paul cofounded Partners in Health in 1987, many thought that devastating infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis could not be controlled in places like Haiti, where modern public health infrastructure and health care systems did not exist. But where others saw barriers, Paul saw tremendous need – and a moral imperative. Paul set an important and enduring example for the global health community: we can and we must reach out to help those who need it, no matter the scale of the challenge.
The many tributes that have poured in for Paul since his death describe him as a “champion,” a “giant,” and a “towering figure” in public health. He was those things, certainly, but fundamentally he was a human who saw the humanity in others. His spirit of service was a rare gift to this world.
My heart aches for Paul’s family, friends, and colleagues and the vast global network that depended on him. We will miss him so dearly. His legacy will live on through the lives he saved and the students and community members he trained in his example. May his vision continue to guide and inspire us all.