Paul Farmer
Paul Farmer

The University of Hawaiʻi joins mourners across the globe honoring the life of internationally acclaimed medical anthropologist Paul Farmer. The 62-year-old public health champion died unexpectedly on February 21 just days after he delivered an online lecture as part of the UH Better Tomorrow Speaker Series. A cause of death has not yet been released. Farmer co-founded Partners in Health and dedicated his career to providing high-quality medical care in some of the world’s most impoverished communities.

“Among the 8 billion of us on this planet, only a handful have had an impact like Paul Farmer,” expressed Robert Perkinson, associate professor of American Studies at UH Mānoa and coordinator of the university’s Better Tomorrow Speaker series. “We grieve this loss for Dr. Farmer’s family, friends, colleagues, patients and for all of us. The world is poorer without him.”

Farmer’s virtual lecture on February 17 highlighted the importance of health justice in the post-COVID-19 era, noting the need to build systems of care to ensure that every patient, in every corner of the world, receives quality care. In addition to last week’s presentation, Farmer also talked with faculty and students at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) and met privately with Hawaiʻi health leaders.

Three men sitting on a car
Farmer with Gregory G. Maskarinec (left) and Seiji Yamada (right) during a 2007 visit to the UH Mānoa campus.

Farmer’s work inspired the university to establish the interdisciplinary UH System Global Health and Social Justice Work Group, which represents UH’s membership in the international Consortium of Universities on Global Health and is part of the UHealthy Hawaiʻi initiative.

JABSOM professors Gregory G. Maskarinec, director of the Office of Global Health and International Medicine, and Seiji Yamada from the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health led the planning for Farmer’s virtual visit to Hawaiʻi this month.

“We hope that Partners in Health can continue its remarkable work throughout the world,” said Maskarinec. “In solidarity with Paul, we insist that health is a human right, and that gross inequities of health care delivery must be ended here in Hawaiʻi and throughout the world.”

“Paul Farmer told us that the destitute poor of this world receive little or no medical care at all,” Yamada added. “The struggles of such people might be geographically remote from the settings in which most of us practice medicine. However, in an increasingly interconnected world, we are all threatened by war, climate change, infectious disease and grotesque economic inequalities. It is less and less tenable to say, ‘That’s not my problem.’ Paul always reminded us that bringing health and justice to the world is the responsibility of all of us.”

Farmer was the chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a member of the National Academy of Medicine and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His most recent book is Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds: Ebola and the Ravages of History. He was also the subject of author Tracy Kidder’s bestselling biography, Mountains Beyond Mountains.

Farmer’s final address at the Better Tomorrow Speaker Series