The Heinz Award for the Human Condition goes to Paul E. Farmer for his work in treating deadly infectious diseases among the world's poorest people.
Dr. Farmer is a medical doctor and a professor of anthropology at Harvard's Medical School who shuttles between Harvard and Haiti, where he maintains a practice at Clinique Bon Saveur, a charity hospital he helped found in the central plateau of Haiti.
Research in anthropology took him to Haiti in 1983; the medical needs of the poorest people in the western hemisphere keep taking him back. Infectious disease is endemic to the developing world because poverty breeds conditions hostile to good health. Haiti was challenged by an HIV/AIDS epidemic that began ravaging the island nation in the 1980s. International health experts firmly believed effective treatment of the virus and disease was impossible in the developing world.
Paul Farmer disagreed. He believes access to quality health care is a basic human right. He successfully challenged the conventional wisdom that AIDS drug treatment was too complicated to use in treating the poor in developing countries.
In Haiti, he began treating pregnant women with AZT to stop the transmission of HIV to their unborn babies. Later, his clinic began offering a three-drug treatment regimen to patients who were no longer responding to treatment for the other virulent diseases afflicting many AIDS victims. Because AIDS damages the immune system, other diseases, such as tuberculosis (TB) and severe pneumonia, often kill the weakened patients. Dr. Farmer and his team reinforced care for these and other common diseases.
He developed a community-based treatment method that includes daily and close monitoring by teams of community health workers to make sure the patients follow the complicated drug regimen. As a result, he stunned the medical world with clinical outcomes better than those in many inner cities in the United States.
The same community-based treatment was used to stem the spread of a super-strain of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDRTB) in Peru and in the prisons of Russia. No effective vaccine exists for TB, which infects an estimated eight million people each year and kills more than two million. In the developing world, MDRTB was considered a death sentence. Even the World Health Organization considered the disease untreatable in poor countries.
Paul Farmer and his co-workers at Partners In Health proved them wrong again. He and his colleagues cured more than 80 percent of those with virulent TB in Peru. The World Health Organization, impressed by his success, reversed itself and adopted his treatment modality.
Dr. Farmer has not only devoted his talent and energy to treating the poorest of the poor, but he has also opened the eyes of the world to the inequities in global public health. He is a man of extraordinary modesty and dedication. And, in keeping with the spirit of the Heinz Awards, he has taken concrete steps to address the profound social inequality between rich and poor in health care.
Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.
UPDATES SINCE RECEIVING THE HEINZ AWARD
August 2011 - The Prix Galien USA Committee, responsible for awarding the most prestigious prize in biopharmaceutical research and development, announced today that Dr. Paul Farmer will be awarded the 2011 Pro Bono Humanum Award. Dr. Farmer was selected for his work advancing community-based strategies for treating AIDS and tuberculosis among populations living in extreme poverty, as well as for mobilizing relief efforts after destructive and devastating events such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. -Galien Foundation (PDF)
July 2011 - Paul Farmer's new book, “Haiti After the Earthquake," was released today. In the first two-thirds of the book, Farmer gives an account of Haiti in the decades before the quake and the months after it, followed by 11 essays from doctors, humanitarians and families affected. All proceeds from the book will go to support work in Haiti. - Fresh Air
December 2010 - Paul Farmer has been named a University Professor, Harvard’s highest distinction for a faculty member. “Paul Farmer is best known to the public as a pioneering humanitarian,” President Drew Faust said in announcing the appointment. “But among scholars he is equally well-known for his research and writing, which have crossed boundaries between the social sciences and biomedical research and married theory and practice to forge a new approach to global health. - Harvard Gazette
August 2009 - Former United States President Bill Clinton appoints the physician and Harvard University professor Paul Farmer as the United Nations Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti to assist in advancing the economic and social development of the impoverished Caribbean nation. - United Nations News Centre
May 2006 - Farmer and his Partners in Health co-founder Jim Yong, appear in a Frontline PBS special entitled "The Age of AIDS".
April 2006 - Farmer receives the 2006 Mendel Medal Award from Villanova University for his tireless international charity which provides direct health care to the underprivileged. - Villanova University
October 2005 - Farmer and Jim Yong Kim, of Partners In Health, named among America's Best Leaders by U.S. News and World Report. - U.S. News and World Report
September 2005 - Farmer receives Duke University's Distinguished Alumni Award. Farmer was the subject of Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracey Kidder, which was assigned summer reading for incoming freshmen at Duke. - The Herald Sun
September 2005 - Farmer's Partners in Health is awarded the 2005 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize of $1.5 million for their help in alleviating human suffering. - Business Wire
October 2004 - Farmer receives a $100,000 grant from the Ronald McDonald House Charities for his "outstanding contributions to improving children's lives." The grant is to be donated to Farmer's youth charity of choice. - Ronald McDonald House Charities
April 2004 - Partners in Health establishes the first phase of aid in Rwanda with the aid of a $10 million HIV/AIDS initiative from the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation. - U.S. News and World Report
September 2003 - Tracy Kidder writes the best selling book about Farmer entitled Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. The book brings Farmer's work into the international spotlight and is acclaimed by critics. - People magazine
April 2003 - Farmer authors Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor. The book speaks largely as to how "the structural violence" of denied opportunities, economic deprivation, violent despots (and the powers supporting them), and international financial organizations harm the health of billions of people."
Speech3/3/2003 - Acceptance Speech
Through the generosity of Teresa Heinz Kerry, that's what we call her in Boston ... daughter of a doctor to some very poor patients, several of my co-workers are here tonight. My mother always exhorted us to express our gratitude for kindnesses large and small, and I would like to find 57 ways to thank you for this great honor. Here it goes.
Point number one: I've worked with hundreds of people in Haiti, Peru, Russia, Mexico and Boston. I accept this award on their behalf. We all thank the nominators, the jurors, the wonderful staff of the Foundation and the Heinz family.
Points two through 11: improving the human condition is what moves us. Partners In Health works on behalf of the sick, the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, and the imprisoned. One man's words ... we work for the victims of oppression including racism, gender inequality, mean-spirited policies, and political violence. There are patients because of these misfortunes. Thank you for helping us take on these problems and take care of these patients.
Points 12 through 17: the human condition, including the very bad conditions in which I work, are not created by natural disasters. They are not created by God. They are created by humans, and we are responsible for improving them. We are responsible for each other. But we can't do our work without resources and attention, which this award brings.
Points 18 to 42: those most responsible for conditions good and bad are the powerful. The powerful are not in Haiti. Yesterday morning I almost missed my flight because I was taking a man with a gunshot wound to the hospital. He couldn't eat because we were about to take him to the operating room, but his wife seven months pregnant with their seventh child had not eaten because she had no money. There's plenty of food for all of us on this planet. We can change this and we must.
Points 43 to 55: in my line of work, you won't get far without friends and family. I'll thank those here including Vanessa, Ellen, David, Lois and Tom, Peggy and David, and most of all Ophelia Dahl, director of Partners In Health. And I thank those not here including my wife and daughter, Jim, Loon, and all those in Haiti, Peru and Russia.
Point 56: we all avert our gaze to avoid the spectacle of the powerful who abuse the vulnerable. Thank you for helping us to draw attention to the terrible and unnecessary suffering of the poor. United States policies towards Haiti are unjust. And yet I meet so many good Americans that I conclude that we must speak out so that good Americans can have much more influence in this very city, on this and so many other issues.
Point number 57, and there's some anticipation by now: is that there is a very great man in this room. Okay, so there are several and even more very great women present. But my final point is to say that Thomas Jay White who will be 83 years old next week has made it possible for me to be a doctor to the poor. My patients by definition cannot pay for their medical care. Others must be part of this equation so that doctors can do right by the destitute sick. Tom and Lois, once wealthy, have given away their wealth to serve the poor. They've done much to restore the honor of our people. Some of you may be skeptical. Does this really add up to 57 ways? But I hope you'll trust me. I hope you will join me in our movement to respect the right to healthcare. Most of all, I hope you will let me thank you for this wonderful honor, the company the other honorees, and of all of you.