Paul Farmer, a medical anthropologist who has fought for a stronger public health infrastructure around the world, has been named recipient of the 2020 Berggruen Prize.
The US $ 1 million prize, awarded annually to people who “have profoundly shaped the self-image and progress of humans in a rapidly changing world,” went to the doctor in recognition of his leadership role in connection with the Coronavirus pandemic.
"DR. Farmers' demand for better public health systems is not just a science, it's political, economic and ethical issue," said Amy Gutmann, judge of the competition and president of the University of Pennsylvania, in a press release "In this crisis, as in previous ones, our knowledge far exceeds our will to implement effective solutions."
Dr. Farmer, who has worked in the field for decades, helped found Partners in Health, a Boston-based nonprofit organization in 1987, focused on improving health care in resource-poor communities. While traveling around the world, he has received awards: Dr. Farmer was a MacArthur Fellow in 1993 and received the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 2018. Since 2009 he has been chairman of the Global Health and Social Medicine Department at Harvard Medical School.
"It has changed our understanding not only of what it means to be sick or healthy, but also of what it means to treat health as a human right and the ethical and political obligations that follow," said Kwame Anthony Appiah, chairman of the Awards committee and professor at New York University who writes the Ethicist column for the New York Times.
During his career, Dr. Farmer in the treatment of Ebola, tuberculosis and H.I.V. and AIDs in “clinical deserts” like Haiti, Rwanda, and Peru. He also wrote 12 books – most recently "Fevers, Feuds and Diamonds", examining the structural inequalities that worsened the spread of Ebola and the ways the 2014 outbreak was not inevitable. It was also the subject of the 2017 documentary "Bending the Arc".
"As a thinker and actor, Dr. Paul Farmer has combined the philosophical articulation of human rights with the practical pursuit of health," said Nicolas Berggruen, chairman of the institute.