Director’s Blog: Dr. Paul Farmer’s Legacy Will Live On

March 8, 2022

“It is with this surety that we must stand with Haiti, a country whose spirit and people will never be broken, and work in solidarity toward the future the Haitian people deserve.”

–Dr. Paul Farmer

The world is mourning the loss of a global health leader, Dr. Paul Farmer. Haiti, in particular, is affected by this loss because much of Dr. Farmer’s pioneering work was in Cange, Haiti with patients infected with HIV and Tuberculosis. That work continued, to this date, all over Haiti with a mission to serve its people. Konbit Sante and Dr. Farmer have that in common, a deep commitment to improve the healthcare status of people in Haiti.

Dr. Farmer was a mentor to many, including myself. Many that have chosen to serve in the field of public health have looked up to Dr. Farmer as a guide, a motivating force and a north star, especially in difficult situations and circumstances. Dr. Farmer learned to seamlessly navigate complex healthcare systems to come up with thoughtful solutions with a lasting impact. The truth is, it wasn’t easy for him either, but he never gave up and seemed to always take each challenge in stride; a lesson many of us can learn from, especially in leadership.

I have been thinking about the lessons we have learned from him and how that has impacted our work at Konbit Sante. From Dr. Farmer we have learned that leaders set culture. In 2017-2018, I worked as a laboratory consultant with Partners in Health to establish their Biosafety Level Three Tuberculosis Laboratory in Mirebalais, Haiti. During my time at Partners in Health, it was evident that Dr. Farmer’s philosophy was centered around care and respect. He built and fostered relationships.

I can share one personal instance. He presented a guest lecture at a laboratory workshop and while I thought we had many things in common, given our prior collaborations in the field of tuberculosis, I quickly learned that he had a connection with everyone in the room. There wasn’t a single person in that workshop that didn’t have a relationship with him. Dr. Farmer made each of us feel like we mattered, regardless of our title, background, or social status. In an exchange of emails months later, after my assignment was complete, he thanked me and said, “Didi and I are partial to anyone that has a love for Haiti!”

At Konbit Sante, we strive to follow those principles of care and respect when we connect with our internal teams, partners, collaborators, and donors. Our founding philosophy aligns with Dr. Farmer’s approach to accompaniment. As such, our organization’s relationship and commitment to our partners in Cap-Haitien is centered around truly understanding and addressing their needs.

From Dr. Farmer we have learned that everyone has the right to quality healthcare. Dr. Farmer was of the belief that low- and middle-income countries need state of the art technology and instruments, just like wealthy countries. He would emphasize that in order to appropriately diagnose and treat patients, essential tools are needed. In one of our lively conversations he indicated, “The cost to fix a broken microscope in Haiti is more than to ship a brand new one from Boston. Therefore, we need to send our best products to Haiti.”

Konbit Sante’s mission is to support the development of a sustainable healthcare system. When we develop projects and start community initiatives, one of the first questions we ask is what tools are required. We believe that without the appropriate functional tools, our work on sustainability would fail. One such project that we launched in 2021 was the ultrasound training program. The reason that project is successful is because of the equipment from Emagine Solutions Technology and the team of medical professionals who provide their training and expertise. Without the appropriate and best instruments, this collaboration and project wouldn’t be viable.

The global health community is stronger because of the many lessons from Dr. Farmer. He will continue to be missed by many.

I believe we all have a responsibility to carry on his legacy. At Konbit Sante, we are committed to doing just that. Our focus remains on our mission and the people and populations we serve. In the words of Dr. Farmer, “Healthcare is a human right.” With that motto in mind, we serve our partners and collaborators in the field through focused programming, financial assistance, and constant support.

As soldiers of public health we, at Konbit Sante, will continue to march on. Thank you Dr. Farmer for showing us the way.

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