I was in a book club when I lived in South Carolina.  They were reading mostly non-fiction books, a change from the fiction that I had been reading, but I realized what incredible stories came from real life!  Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, by Tracy Kidder (a Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer of the 1981 nonfiction narrative, The Soul of a New Machine which I had read when I worked at IBM) was one of the best books.  I bought (used) copies and sent them to friends.  If I spoke French, I may have gone to Haiti to see what Dr. Paul Farmer had accomplished there!

Paul Farmer is a 44-year-old specialist in infectious diseases and an attending physician at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. His biographer, Tracy Kidder, read his book on the connections between poverty and disease — Infections and Inequalities — and wrote to him, “I’m reading your oeuvre.” “Ah, but that’s not my oeuvre,” Farmer replied. “To see my oeuvre you have to come to Haiti.”

Indeed, Farmer founded a hospital and health center, Zanmi Lasante, in Cange, Haiti, hours from the capital and at the end of a gutted road in a region destitute even by Haiti’s standards, as part of an extensive community-based health network linked to a hospital, Clinique Bon Sauveur.  For more than 20 years, Farmer has spent many months every year there, often taking care of patients himself and continually improving the treatments offered by the clinic. These now include antiretroviral drugs.

Lasante is supported by a foundation based in Boston called Partners in Health, which is headed by Ophelia Dahl and largely financed by Tom White, the philanthropic owner of a large Boston construction firm. There is more. Through his patients in Cange, Farmer became interested in multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. From Haiti, he exported treatment of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis to Peru and then to Siberia, achieving cure rates comparable to those in the United States.

Through the Institute for Health and Social Justice (the research and education division of Partners in Health) and his associate Jim Yong Kim, he started a movement to lower prices for the second-line drugs necessary to treat resistant tuberculosis and successfully lobbied the World Health Organization for changes in treatment recommendations for tuberculosis…

Bernard Hirschel, M.D.  from “The New England Journal of Medicine”  Copyright © 2003 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved.

I googled Dr. Paul Farmer and Earthquake, and sure enough, he is involved:

Haiti: UN envoy Bill Clinton appoints prominent US doctor as deputy

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Haiti, former US President Bill Clinton, meeting with residents of Gonaïves

Former United States President Bill Clinton appointed 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.

“Paul’s selfless commitment to building health systems in the poor Haitian communities over the last 20 years has given millions of people hope for a brighter future for Haiti,” said Mr. Clinton, who is the UN Special Envoy to Haiti.

Dr. Farmer, a founding director of Partners in Health since 1987, has dedicated much of his life to improving health care for the world’s most vulnerable people. As a student in 1983, he worked in villages in Haiti’s Central Plateau bringing modern health care to some of the poorest people in the Western Hemisphere.

Starting with a one-building clinic in the village of Cange, Dr. Farmer’s project now extends to a multi-service health complex that includes a primary school, an infirmary, a surgery wing, a training programme for outreach workers, a 104-bed hospital, a women’s clinic and a paediatric care facility, according to the Office for the Special Envoy to Haiti.

“His credibility both among the people of Haiti and in the international community will be a tremendous asset to our efforts as we work with the Government and people of Haiti to improve health care, strengthen education and create economic opportunity,” said Mr. Clinton.


Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Haiti Relief

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) conducted a hearing of the Foreign Relations Committee to examine rescue, recovery and reconstruction efforts in Haiti. Paul Farmer, United Nations Special Envoy for Haiti was a featured witness.  http://www.cspan.org/Watch/Media/2010/01/28/HP/A/28965/Senate+Foreign+Relations+Cmte+Hearing+on+Haiti+Relief.aspx

I will not ask for contributions to Partners in Health; after I had given this book to friends I asked and was told about the causes that they already supported.  But I would ask anyone who has not read the book to do so.  It will help you understand the plight in Haiti before the earthquake.

There is also a connection to Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson of Three Cups of Tea fame.  (Three Cups of Tea is another book that I read for the book club, and one that you must read.)

Mortenson describes how he and his intrepid manager, Sarfraz Khan, barnstormed around Badakhshan Province [in Afghanistan] and the Wakhan Corridor, moving for weeks without sleep, to establish the first schools there.

Those efforts were diverted in October 2005 when a devastating earthquake hit the Azad Kashmir region of Pakistan. Under Sarfraz’s watch the CAI helped with relief efforts by setting up temporary tent schools and eventually several earthquake-proof schools…

Dr. Paul Farmer and Greg Mortenson have gone way beyond Mother Tereasa in my book.  Imagine what the world would be like if we would all help those poorer than ourselves.  Image if those receiving the million-dollar AIG bonuses pledged all of the bonus money to Haiti relief!  (As if…)

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