A Doctor Who Would Cure the World

A Doctor Who Would Cure the World

Paul Farmer has saved lives in parts of the globe where despair hovers like thunderclouds. His mission, as Tracy Kidder writes in his best-selling portrait of Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains, is nothing less than to “cure the world.”

Kidder’s book was this year’s Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads selection, and in conjunction with that community-wide initiative—which seeks to promote reading and civic discussion through the shared experience of reading a common book—members of the School of Public Health community conducted group discussions of the book, and Farmer spoke at the University of Michigan in a talk co-sponsored by SPH (plays in Windows Media). The physician and anthropologist described the work he’s recently undertaken with his nonprofit organization, Partners in Health, battling AIDS and other infectious diseases in Rwanda, and he told the capacity crowd that universities must have a “substantial service component” if they want to have an impact on global poverty and health.

SPH alumna Rachel Ross, MPH ’05, knows first-hand what it means to have such an impact. Since late 2005, she’s worked at Partners in Health as project manager for its Peruvian sister organization, Socios en Salud, which treats disease and provides shelter, food, and health care to residents of shantytowns around Lima. Ross often crosses paths with Farmer at meetings, and she says he “brings out the best in others. He inspires people to be at their own most intelligent and most articulate.”

The organization itself, she says, “is just as passionate and just as committed to poverty alleviation and social justice and population health as Kidder makes it sound in his book. It’s such a joy to work in an environment like that.”

Her own vision of “social justice through public health” drove Ross into public health in the first place, she says, and it’s why she chose Michigan. Although accepted by several peer institutions, including Harvard, where PIH is based, Ross found that Michigan “had the strongest sense of connecting public health with social justice. It was a really important part both of my decision to come and of my experience being there.”

During his visit to Ann Arbor, Farmer agreed to advise the university on the development of its new Center for Global Health.
For more information on Partners in Health visit www.pih.org.

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View an interview with Dr. Paul Farmer, taped during his February 2007 visit to Ann Arbor.