Partners in Health founding director Paul Farmer highlighted the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, his medical efforts in Haiti and several global health issues in developing and underdeveloped countries at the 25th Anniversary of the Stanley Stone Lecture Series Wednesday.
Attracting over 600 undergraduate and graduate students, distinguished scholars and the general public to the Jacob Sleeper Auditorium, Farmer, the United Nations special adviser to the Secretary-General on Community Based Medicine and Lessons from Haiti, emphasized the “six pitfalls of global public health” throughout his lecture, hosted by the Boston University College of General Studies.
Prevention versus care, absence of specialists, weak infrastructure, fixed costs, cost of inaction and non-sustainability were “all of the ways to stop the conversation” on public health and made up the six pitfalls, Farmer said during the talk.
Farmer, recalling his experience in Sierra Leone, said the lack of proper materials and medical facilities intensified the spread of Ebola, particularly through the caregivers.
“There were no specialists at mission hospitals. Nurses reused needles to do prenatal care. It is impossible to give proper care without a properly educated staff,” he said. “The failure was not an endemic failure of heroism and bravery, but the thought that we could have done more to educate and therefore do more to help.”
Relating the subject to his personal experience, Farmer recalled an incident as a student at Harvard Medical School when, he said, he got hit by a bus on Huron Avenue in Cambridge. After the accident he was treated with proper care, he added.
“[The accident] is an example of where we pit prevention versus care,” he said, comparing how he would have not been treated with “great attention” if it were to happen in Haiti due to the nation’s undeveloped health system.
During the question-and-answer section of the lecture, Farmer said access to proper health care is a “basic human right” and he criticized resistance to the national healthcare program.
“Why is [access to proper health care] a hard sell in this country?” he said. “It’s pretty sad that the most influential medical power can’t get it’s act together.”
Rachel Swirsky, communications coordinator for CGS, said this topic of conversation is crucial to research universities such as BU.
“Dr. Farmer brings an interdisciplinary lens [to the lecture],” she said in an email. “His work also likely resonates with those who are interested in social justice, public policy, anthropology, humanitarian work and more.”
Several attendees said Farmer’s lecture informed them of what medical officials and institutions should focus on to improve global health in all regions of the world.
Kayleigh Sandhu, a second-year student in the School of Public Health, said she was greatly inspired by Farmer.
“As a public health student, it kind of reinvigorated me and enlightened me so now I’m getting excited again about why I got into public health,” Sandhu said.
Kate Irwin, a junior studying anthropology at Colby College and a member of the Colby branch of Partners in Health, said she traveled over three hours from her campus in Maine to hear Farmer, one of her role models, speak.
“Farmer was so fascinating,” she said. “I think he’s the perfect combination of funny and scary smart,”
Nicholas Gordon, a dental public health resident at BU’s Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine, said he would have liked to hear more about how the public can get more involved in the issue of global health.
“As students, we have a ton of loans and so many degree requirements but we also want to do the things that Dr. Farmer is doing in other countries and manage our responsibilities at home here,” he said.
Gordon, however, said he agreed with Farmer’s general perspective.
“With any talk about health care on the global scene,” he said, “we have to start with the basic assumption that healthcare is a right for everyone.”