Features disabled! Please read the following:
<< I Have the Plugin - Show Flash Content >> | << No Plugin - Hide this Warning >>
The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World
“How does one person with great talents come to exert a force on the world? I think in Farmer’s case the answer lies somewhere in the apparent craziness, the sheer impracticality, of half of everything he does...”
- Tracy Kidder, in Mountains Beyond Mountains
Anyone attempting to replicate Paul Farmer's impact on the world will struggle to succeed. The Harvard-educated doctor and anthropologist has altered society's beliefs about medical treatment for the poor and, as a result, profoundly impacted the lives of millions worldwide. His success results from an unusual blend of intellect, selflessness, commitment, obsession, and nerve. As biographer Tracy Kidder suggests, it is perhaps the latter traits that make Farmer's "force on the world" so great. There are others as smart, still others as selfless; but the scant few who combine those traits almost certainly lack Farmer's commitment to justice and pluck to attempt the impossible. It is the man's borderline insanity and inability to see or accept limitations that make him unique. Fortunately, there's room for the rest of us; proclaimed bluntly on a colleague's wall, "If Paul is the model, we're [doomed]."
Paul Farmer made his first trip to Haiti at just 23 years of age. Curious about the country since being exposed to Haitian immigrants as a youth in Florida, his initial interest was anthropological. He quickly discovered one of the most disproportionate relationships between rich and poor of any society in the world. The vast majority of the population was hungry, sick, and without hope. Their despair, he decided, resulted primarily from the self-serving actions of the nation's elite and foreign powers, most notably France and the United States. It didn't take long for Farmer to determine how he could help. He would provide medical services to Haiti's poor. Professionally, and without cost to his patients. Nearly everything he has achieved since - Harvard medical degree, PhD in anthropology, MacArthur Foundation "genius award," pioneering work in the treatment of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis - stems from his steadfast commitment to this singular cause.
Not long after his first visit, Farmer established a medical clinic in Haiti. "Perhaps a million" of the country's most destitute residents fell within the clinic's purview. The facility's launch and subsequent development were achieved while Farmer simultaneously pursued his medical degree at Harvard. With success and a legion of grateful patients, Farmer's stature and influence grew. Soon, he was breaking new ground in the treatment of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR). He aimed to debunk the myth that treatment of MDR was too expensive to attempt in poor communities. Successful implementation of a program in Peru forced the medical establishment to pay attention. With help from colleagues at Partners in Health, the American charity he launched with a handful of others, Farmer was soon successfully lobbying for lower drug prices and revamped treatment protocol at the World Health Organization. Work expanded to Mexico, Guatemala, Russia, and later, Africa.
Mountains Beyond Mountains is Tracy Kidder's telling of Farmer's remarkable story. Unlike many biographers, Kidder isn't charged with summarizing his subject's life; instead he stumbles upon it. The two meet in Haiti as a result of a beheading and later reconnect on a flight to the States. Kidder repeatedly reenters the scene and pursues Farmer's story for the simple reason that he deems it of interest. Like many others, Kidder also seems intent on grasping how Paul Farmer came to be.
The author explores Farmer's fascinating childhood, which included stints living in a bus, tent, and barely-seaworthy boat. Yet while external influences played a role, a great deal of the Paul Farmer magic was seemingly determined at birth. He was always unusual, whether it was forming a herpetology club in the fourth grade (when none of his classmates showed up, Farmer's family became the "club") or deeming War and Peace a favorite book at eleven years old, Farmer was born with talents and interests that set him apart.
Beyond talent, however, it was Farmer's development of a conscience that would shape his life and career. Aghast at the inequalities that exist among the world's people, he became obsessed with forcing change and righting wrongs. He developed an uncanny rapport with the people he served. Every patient was made to feel important, human, equal. To Farmer, each of them was. His quirky humor and anthropologist's respect for local traditions and beliefs engendered trust among those he served.
Despite all Farmer is, it becomes apparent in Mountains Beyond Mountains that he requires a supporting cast. Alone, his achievements would be less profound. Ophelia Dahl, a British woman he met on that initial trip to Haiti, provides stability and guidance throughout, her presence enabling expansion of Farmer's reach. Partners in Health was largely her doing; she remains the organization's executive director today. And of course, for Farmer to achieve anything in Haiti or beyond, money was required. Tom White, proving there is room for capitalist success in a just society, funded the initial endeavors. Longtime partner Jim Yong Kim encouraged a broadening of scope; it was he who lobbied the Gates Foundation for a substantial grant Farmer deemed out of reach. Kim also dove into policy, further expanding the influence of Partners in Health.
Mountains Beyond Mountains is indeed the story of a great and influential man. Paul Farmer is one of a kind, a living saint in many minds. Yet the book is also a testament to the power of diversity and balance in addressing the world's ills. There can be just one Paul Farmer, but there is a need for others with different and complementary skills and abilities working toward similar goals. Perhaps more than deeds themselves, it is Farmer's refusal to accept injustice as inevitable that others should seek to emulate. Poor people dying of preventable disease? Starvation? Tainted water causing birth defects or worse? It doesn't have to be so.
Take a moment now to learn more about Partners in Health, and then - read this book!
<< Find this Book on Amazon.com >>