February 24, 2022

Salk Institute mourns the passing of Paul Farmer, champion of global health equity

Salk Institute pays tribute to noted humanitarian and inaugural Salk Medal winner

Salk News


Salk Institute mourns the passing of Paul Farmer, champion of global health equity

Salk Institute pays tribute to noted humanitarian and inaugural Salk Medal winner

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute mourns the loss of Paul Farmer, MD, PhD, a champion of global health equity and recipient of the inaugural Salk Institute Medal for Health and Humanity in 2005 (now known as the Salk Medal for Public Service). Farmer died in his sleep in Rwanda on February 21. He was co-founder and chief strategist of Partners In Health, an international non-profit organization that provides health care, infrastructure and advocacy for the communities that need it most. He was also professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Paul Farmer
Paul Farmer accepting the inaugural Salk Institute Medal for Health and Humanity in 2005.
Click here for a high-resolution image.
Credit: Salk Institute

In the resource-poor settings of Haiti, Rwanda and elsewhere, Farmer and Partners In Health established community-based health systems that deliver high-quality care for hundreds of thousands of people; built schools, sanitation and water systems; vaccinated children; reduced the rates of HIV transmission; and treated people with drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis. Through his work, writings and advocacy, Farmer helped raise awareness of health, human rights and the consequences of social inequality.

Farmer received the Salk Medal for dedicating his life to improving the treatment of diseases that disproportionately affect the world’s poor and underserved.

“Like so many around the world, we are deeply saddened by Paul Farmer’s passing,” says Salk President Rusty Gage. “He was a trailblazer and an advocate, and he showed us through his actions how to change the world for the better.”

In addition to authoring multiple books, Farmer was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Institute of Medicine and National Academy of Sciences. He received many awards and recognitions throughout his career, including the 2018 Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences and the 2021 Berggruen Prize, awarded annually to an influential thought leader. Farmer’s accomplishments are described in the popular book, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, by Tracy Kidder.

“This is very sad news—he did so much good for humanity and had more to do,” says Salk Professor Tony Hunter. “The 2005 Salk Medal was one of his earliest awards, and I sat across from him at the award ceremony and dinner. He said how much it meant to him because Jonas Salk’s philosophy had been that everyone should benefit from the polio vaccine.”

“One cannot say enough about the humanity of Paul Farmer and the legacy he leaves,” says Salk Professor Martyn Goulding. In reading Mountains Beyond Mountains, I was struck by how his humble beginnings shaped his humanity and dedication to social justice.”

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