In Memoriam: Dr. Paul Farmer

February 23, 2022

Paul FarmerThe Department of Anthropology at Harvard University mourns the sudden and painful loss of Dr. Paul Farmer, Kolokotrones University Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard alumnus, colleague, teacher, and friend.


Both physician and anthropologist, Farmer received his MD from Harvard Medical School and his PhD from the Department of Anthropology in 1990, with a dissertation titled, AIDS and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame, under the direction of Arthur Kleinman, Byron Good, and Sally Falk Moore. Prior to completing this opus of nearly 800 pages, Farmer co-founded Partners in Health in 1987, guided by the “moral imperative to provide high-quality health care globally to those who need it most.”


The author of 12 books, Farmer worked tirelessly to advocate for global health and human rights. His was a powerful voice that drew both attention and resources to addressing the impact of social inequalities on the uneven and unjust distribution and outcome of disease. Key among his many achievements was to establish teaching hospitals and a network of clinics in Haiti and Rwanda. Paul worked closely with Arthur Kleinman, Byron Good, Mary-Jo Good, Anne Becker, and a growing network of physician-anthropologists to help develop a unique constellation of medical anthropology linked to global health and a commitment to social justice that brought together resources from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Harvard Medical School.   He also played a crucial role in the Department of Anthropology, where he mentored and served on the PhD committees of numerous medical anthropology students, and joined fellow Physician Anthropologists Arthur Kleinman, Anne Becker, and Salmaan Keshavjee to teach the famed course in General Education, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Cares? Reimagining Global Health.” At Harvard Medical School, he served from 2009 until his death as Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine. And at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, he was Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Global Health Equity.


Paul Farmer’s impact is immeasurable—on the health of the world’s poor, on the integration of social science and medicine, and on generations of students. He was widely recognized for his service and scholarship, having received the Margaret Mead Award from the American Anthropological Association, the American Medical Association’s Outstanding International Physician (Nathan Davis) Award, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and, with his colleagues at Partners in Health, the Hilton Humanitarian Prize. He was a member of the National Academy of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


The world has lost one of its most devoted visionaries, the University one of its most dedicated servants, and the Department of Anthropology one of its dearest friends. Our hearts go out to his wife, anthropologist and fellow Partners in Health researcher Didi Bertrand, his three children, Catherine, Elizabeth and Sebastian, his mother, his brothers, James and Jeffrey, and his sisters, Katy, Jennifer and Peggy.