Poverty is often viewed as the inability of an individual to provide the most basic needs, such as food, water and shelter. There are many causes of poverty – one of the largest causes is due to poor health care. Worldwide, there are approximately 689 million people facing poverty. More than half a billion people face extreme poverty due to poor health care.
In the summer of 1983, Paul Farmer, not yet a medical student, visited Haiti to volunteer at a local hospital, Mirebalais, in the village of Cange. Upon his arrival, Farmer met Ophelia Dahl, an American advocate and another volunteer at the hospital. Although young and inexperienced, both Framer and Dahl recognized Haiti’s dire call for help. Looking back on her initial viewpoint of Haiti, Dahl reported, “If you had gone to Cange in 1983, you did not have to be a social scientist to say, ‘this is terrible.’ There is no option for health care, not enough food, no housing or school, nothing.”
The Creation of Partners in Health
Despite these daunting challenges, Dahl and Framer agreed to advocate for the country’s lack of health care. As Dahl said, “We are going to Cange, where we already know people and where we have each other. Let’s just see what we can do,” according to the Partners in Health Medium article. Thus, Partners in Health began its journey.
Traveling from Haiti to Boston, Farmer recruited more volunteers, expanding the idea of providing free, organized and efficient health care to desperate villages in impoverished countries. Eventual co-founders of Partners in Health – Todd McCormack, Jim Yong Kim and Tom White joined Farmer in Haiti and began to eliminate the presence of HIV and tuberculosis, according to Medium.
Viewed as a death sentence, HIV and tuberculosis were rampant in Haiti; however, Farmer and his team discovered that larger, more developed countries were able to cure these diseases and eliminate their presence. A strong correlation between the economy and health care was the cause of the presence of certain diseases in certain populations.
In 1987, Partners in Health officially established itself as an independent, nonprofit organization.
Partners in Health Fights Poverty
After healing thousands of patients in Haiti, Partners in Health looked onward. Farmer sought to develop an international program offering free, comprehensive health care to impoverished countries. In 1994, Partners in Health expanded into Peru, battling the multidrug-resistant tuberculosis epidemic. Through the creation of the MDR-TB treatment program, Peru saw an 80% cure rate and, yet again, inspired by the success, Farmer looked to the rest of the world.
Four years later, Partners in Health developed tuberculosis treatment plans in Russia and launched the HIV Equity Initiative. Today, this initiative provides antiretroviral therapy to HIV-positive patients in Haiti.
Since its establishment, Partners in Health has provided its services to Haiti, Peru, Russia, Rwanda, Lesotho, Malawi, the Navajo Nation, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Partners in Health fights poverty through the creation of several organizations and programs that support suffering individuals. According to its website, some examples include:
- OpenMRS: Partners in Health helped develop a software system designed to keep track of medical records for developing countries electronically. Today, 64 countries and organizations use this program.
- Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence: This center opened in 2012 to provide accessible, lifesaving cancer treatment to patients in East Africa. Partners in Health worked with Rwanda’s Ministry of Health to develop this program to treat non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and lung disease.
- Fruits and Vegetables Prescription Program: This program was mainly targeted toward the Navajo Nation residing in the United States. This program assists families by providing fresh, healthy produce. By using a system of “prescription vouchers,” families facing this issue are able to receive a month’s worth of free fruits and vegetables.
- University Hospital (Mirebalais, Haiti): In 2013, Partners in Health opened a 300-bed teaching hospital that provides “high-quality health care and specialized residency programs to train the next generation of clinicians.”
- EndTB: Partners in Health created a partnership aimed at expanding global access to treatments for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. The EndTB program focuses on finding “shorter, more effective and less toxic” treatments for tuberculosis. With help from Partners in Health, this organization provides patients in impoverished countries with clinal trials and access to new drugs.
- Nightingale Fellowship: This program helps nurses improve patient care by allowing them to participate in the decision-making processes behind Partners in Health. This program provides women leaders with a judgment-free space to process experiences and emotions.
- University of Global Health Equity: Partners in Health helped create a university aimed at training new generations of global health leaders by providing a graduate degree in global health delivery. This classroom encourages students to develop solutions to real-world issues, thus equipping them with life-saving skills.
With these programs, Partners in Health could lift communities out of poverty, as affected individuals are no longer forced to leave their livelihoods and spend their savings on health care. As poverty lessens, these areas are inspired and pass on their benefits to the next generation. Today, an increasing number of individuals from impoverished countries are involved in the aspects of global health care. Communities worldwide are lifting themselves out of poverty because Partners in Health fights poverty and disease around the world.
– Sania Patel