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‘Impossible’ problems? See Dr. Farmer

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Paul Farmer, a Harvard-trained doctor specializing in infectious diseases, spends most of his time sprouting health clinics in Cange, Haiti: the poorest region in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

It’s not unusual for Farmer to hike seven hours to care for two sick families. He spends the rest of his time flying a quarter-million miles a year to the ends of the earth, drumming up resources and doctoring poor people.

Farmer’s work proves that “impossible” problems can be solved. Examples:
  • In the 20 years since he watched a Haitian die for lack of a blood transfusion, Farmer not only built a regional blood bank and a hospital, but his staff grew to 200 community health workers and dozens of nurses and doctors. Farmer’s staff now cares for thousands of patients a week at seven locations.
  • After close study, Farmer concluded that Haitians weren’t neglecting their treatment because they believed in voodoo but because they lived in desperate conditions. As one of his staffers said, “Giving people medicine for TB and not giving them food is like washing your hands and drying them in the dirt.” So, Farmer started providing a package of services, including a monthly stipend to pay for food, childcare and a ride to the doctor.
  • Recognizing a huge potential market for drugs to fight infectious diseases, but that Third World patients couldn’t afford them, Farmer’s people whipped up the movement to lower drug prices. Within a few years, the cost for treating a four-drug-resistant case of tuberculosis in Peru, for instance, plunged from $15,000 to about $1,500. It’s still dropping.
  • In 2000, the Gates Foundation granted Farmer’s group, Partners in Health, $44.7 million to fund drug resistant tuberculosis research and treatment.

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