AAA Mourns the Loss of Dr. Paul Farmer

The American Anthropological Association is devastated by the unexpected loss of Dr. Paul Farmer, the cofounder of Partners in Health and a towering figure in the field of anthropology.

Farmer, a longtime advocate for access to quality health care in some of the world’s most impoverished countries, was professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of the division of global health equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The author of 12 books and the subject of a 2017 documentary, “Bending the Arc,”  Dr. Farmer became a public health luminary, thanks largely to “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World,” a 2003 book by Tracy Kidder.”

As a fledgling Harvard medical student, Dr. Farmer worked with fellow physician and anthropologist Jim Yong Kim, who would later serve as president of the World Bank, and activist Ophelia Dahl to start a movement that would change global health forever. Dr. Farmer was a key figure in the fight against the global AIDS epidemic and the Ebola virus. He also started hospitals in Rwanda and in Haiti where he worked for decades, including in the months following the 2010 earthquake.

“Dr. Farmer’s was an unflappable, unstoppable advocate for what at the time was considered an impossible mission – bringing advanced, quality health care to the world’s poorest communities,” said AAA President Ramona Perez. “His vision and dedication forever changed the way we look at global health equity. The field of anthropology, and the world in general, has lost a brilliant, passionate, selfless champion who has touched millions of lives. Our hearts go out to his wife, Didi Bertrand Farmer, and their children, Elizabeth, Catherine and Sebastian.”

Dr. Farmer was the recipient of numerous honors, including the Bronislaw Malinowski Award and the Margaret Mead Award from the Society for Applied Anthropology and the American Anthropological Association, the Outstanding International Physician (Nathan Davis) Award from the American Medical Association, a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and, with his PIH colleagues, the Hilton Humanitarian Prize. He was a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.