Renowned American physician and philanthropist, Dr. Paul Farmer, who passed on Monday, February 21, has been described by many as a true friend of Rwanda and a man with a kind heart, whose work impacted millions of people.
Many Rwandans took to Twitter to mourn the physician who was the co-founder of Partners in Health (PIH), a non-government organisation focusing on healthcare for the vulnerable people in developing countries and was also part of President Paul Kagame’s Presidential Advisory Council (PAC).
Dr. Farmer, who died in Rwanda at the age of 62, was also the Chancellor and Founder of the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) and was also the brain behind Butaro Hospital Cancer Centre of Excellence in partnership with the Government of Rwanda, among other initiatives he led in Rwanda.
On August 31, 2019, Dr. Farmer received the National Order of Outstanding Friendship (Igihango), the country’s highest honor, from President Paul Kagame.
In a email announcing the passing on of Dr. Farmer, Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, the Vice Chancellor of UGHE, revealed that the medic and philanthropist died peacefully in his bed.
“Today marks one of the saddest days for all of us – for the UGHE community, the PIH family, Rwanda, Africa, as well as to the world. It is with our deepest sorrow that I inform you that our beloved Chancellor, the founder of PIH, and the inspiration for most of us at UGHE, Professor Paul Farmer has passed away today, peacefully in his bed,” Dr. Binagwaho said.
“This is so sudden, an unimaginable catastrophe to all of us, and the whole global health community as a whole. A life so beautifully lived deserves to be beautifully remembered. Please join us to mourn the passing of our beloved role model, our leader, and our dearest friend our Muganga Mwiza,” she added in an email to staff.
Dr. Farmer was in Rwanda, country which he visited regularly to check on the different projects he was running.
In December he was in the country where visited Butaro Hospital and met the inaugural class of medical students from the UGHE studying oncology and interacted with patients and staff. Most recently, Farmer came with Harvard professor Dr. John Sharp and provided a special training for students at a patient’s bedside.
He spent time working with the medical students and conducted a morning class at the UGHE campus in Butaro. Dr. Farmer accompanied students to the oncology ward of the hospital to discuss a rare form of gestational trophoblastic neoplasia. He also discussed plans to expand the hospital and university.
The expansion project will see the hospital’s capacity increase from 150 beds to 250. Further, it will equip the hospital with a new intensive care unit, additional wards, and a gynecology and general surgery unit but Dr. Farmer will not be around when that happens.
Partners in Health announced the passing of of Dr. Farmer in a statement below:
Partners In Health announced that its founder, Dr. Paul Farmer, unexpectedly passed away today in his sleep while in Rwanda.
Dr. Farmer was 62 years old. He is survived by his wife, Didi Bertrand Farmer, and their three children.
— Partners In Health (@PIH) February 21, 2022
Paul taught all those around him the power of accompaniment, love for one another, and solidarity. Our deepest sympathies are with his wife Didi and three children.”
— Partners In Health (@PIH) February 21, 2022
Born in North Adams, Massachusetts, Dr. Farmer graduated from Duke University in 1982 and went to Harvard University, where he earned an M.D. and a Ph.D. in anthropology.
In 1987, Farmer founded Partners in Health in Haiti with the mission to provide high-quality care to patients from impoverished backgrounds and those living far from health-care facilities. Over the next three decades, PIH expanded to countries across Africa, including Rwanda and in Latin America, to Russia and to the Navajo Nation in the U.S.
Dr. Farmer was the Kolokotrones University Professor and Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School; Chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; and the United Nations Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti, under Special Envoy Bill Clinton.
“The purpose of life is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well." — Ralph Waldo Emerson
— Professor Senait Fisseha (@DrSenait) February 21, 2022
Rwanda has lost a good friend.
— Edwin Musoni (@EdwinMusoni) February 21, 2022
A good man! He worked tirelessly for the service of others.
I hope there are memorial lectures on his life, libraries and labs named after him..
Rest In Peace Dr. Paul Farmer. https://t.co/RX7eKAxuKf
— Gatete Nyiringabo Ruhumuliza (@gateteviews) February 21, 2022
Devastating news. Paul Farmer gave everything—everything—to others. He saw the worst, and yet did all he could to bring out the best in everyone he encountered. Indefatigable, mischievous, generous, brilliant, soulful, skeptical, idealistic, beloved. A giant. https://t.co/x4Ug2KGGq7
— Samantha Power (@SamanthaJPower) February 21, 2022
My heart is broken to hear the death of my friend and inspiring colleague Paul Farmer.
A giant in global health—an extraordinary advocate committed to leaving absolutely no one behind.
Our prayers and thoughts are with Didi, his children and his global family. RIP my friend. https://t.co/A4mDuz1mYH
— Amina J Mohammed (@AminaJMohammed) February 21, 2022
RIP Dr Paul Farmer. pic.twitter.com/QSQHfAoZw4
— Rwinkwavu District Hospital ( official) (@RwinkwavuO) February 21, 2022