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Farmer talks Third World health care

Farmer talks Third World health carePaul Farmer held up two maps during his USF speech Wednesday. On one continent, size was proportionate to the number of residents infected with HIV. Africa and other developing countries looked like a bloated balloon. The United States was a pipe cleaner.

On the second map, continent size reflected the concentration of physicians. It looked like a mushroom, with a huge head made up by the United States and Europe and a narrow stem constituting Africa.

“This is one of the great ironies of our lives,” Farmer said.

Farmer – noted physician, author and activist – spoke to 400 people at the USF Health Auditorium on Wednesday night about his mission to bring free health care to people affected by poverty and diseases throughout the world.

Farmer, just back from a trip to Rwanda, shared his belief that impoverished people who are affected by HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis should have access to free health care during his University Lecture Series (ULS) speech.

Rwanda is one of the latest countries, following Haiti and Peru, where Farmer’s Partners in Health (PIH) – a non-profit organization based in Boston and founded in 1987 – has brought basic health care.

“He’s had a huge impact,” said Susan James, coordinator of International Programs for USF Health, who introduced Farmer.

PIH began as a small clinic in the middle of a squatter settlement in Haiti. Today, the facility treats more that 1,000 patients per day, some of them for diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV.

Farmer spoke about the battle he and his colleagues in PIH have waged against pharmaceutical companies to lower the prices of the expensive, patent-protected drugs used to treat HIV and tuberculosis.

“I don’t want to be an antagonist of people in the pharmaceutical industry,” Farmer said. “But I am an antagonist of anything that gets in the way of taking care of my (patients). That’s my job.”

PIH also launched Project HIV Equity Initiative in 1998 to directly provide free medical and social support to impoverished peoples suffering from the disease.

Farmer showed a picture of Joseph, a Haitian man suffering from HIV and tuberculosis who stumbled into his clinic as little more than a skeleton in 2003.”He came from Port-au-Prince to die,” Farmer said.

Within six months, Farmer said Joseph had doubled his body weight and was knee-deep in the fight against his diseases.

Now, Joseph collaborates with Farmer in spreading the message for global health care, Farmer said.

“In addition to changing patients lives, our lives are changed too,” Farmer said.