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Farmer talks public health

Louise  Carhart, Community Editor

Dr. Paul Farmer, the renowned public health practitioner, founder of the aid non-profit organization Partners in Health will be speaking and holding a Q&A forum on Friday, Sept. 18 in Harris Center.

Farmer operates health clinics in countries like Peru, Haiti and Rwanda and has pioneered the field of medical anthropology. His unique perspective on the people side of providing health has prompted praise, and even a book called “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder.

Farmer’s talk and Q&A will be the final event at the Rosenfield Program’s Public Health Symposium which hosted various events on campus for the past two weeks. Farmer’s work focuses on more than just providing health services to individuals lacking basic care. He has explored the reasons why poorer countries experience more health-related issues and has challenged the generally accepted view of human rights.

“I think he sets a very high standard, but he also is very clear that everyone can make a contribution,” said Professor Eliza Willis, Political Science.

Willis has taught “Mountains Beyond Mountains” twice in her tutorial on alleviating global poverty.

As the final speaker in the public health series, the event’s organizers predict that Farmer will advocate for an interdisciplinary approach to improving health worldwide.

“I think he is very expert in a wide range of global health threats, but not just global health threats as this capitalized problem but how they actually play out in the lives of people,” said Professor Sarah Purcell, History and Director of the Rosenfield Program. Advocating for the global poor has become Farmer’s trademark.

“[This] is of interest to Grinnellians – both the topic of global health and the notion of how you take individual action and turn it into compassionate action in the world,” Purcell said.

Farmer’s ability to make the fight for global health personal is part of the reason he has been so successful. Not only does he advocate for increased medical care in a country, he has also been able to bridge the gap between countries that need help and those that are able to provide funding and equipment.

“In everything I’ve read that he’s written or things he says, it comes across one way or another, is the interconnectedness of all of us,” Willis said. “He drives that point home so hard.”

Farmer’s understanding of diseases from a medical point of view is enhanced by his work tracing the origins of disease and poverty. He often draws connections between failings in the developing world and events occurring in the “developed” world.

Beyond his work as a doctor and global health advocate, Farmer is a model for students who aspire to make change.

“I think he’s a very inspirational individual and I hope that he will inspire our students not only in thinking what kind of career they can consider … but also inspire them to believe they can make a difference and that they should try to make a difference,” Willis said.

In the end, Willis expects that the most important takeaway from Friday night will go beyond the focus of public health.

“I think that what he’s demonstrated with his life [is] … to be guided by some values and by your feeling of what is right to do in the world. You’re probably going to not go wrong if you do that,” Willis said.

Farmer will be conducting his Q&A at 4 p.m. tonight, Sept. 18, and his talk at 7 p.m., both in the Harris Center. He will be signing books following his talk.

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