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Partners in Health

Taking a holistic approach to fighting infectious disease.

2.8 million patient visits in Haiti in 2011.

Over the last 25 years, Partners In Health has provided health care to the world’s poor, fueled by a simple credo: “whatever it takes” – to do for their patients exactly what they would do for a member of their own family. For their patients, this could mean receiving basic nutrition or being airlifted from Haiti to Boston for a life-saving emergency treatment. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners In Health, is the nucleus of this effort. Inspiring in his own right, Farmer navigated his way from living in a school bus as a child to attending Duke University with a full scholarship. 

It was his education at Duke that led Farmer to Haiti for one year before attending Harvard Medical School - and there, working with now Executive Director Ophelia Dahl, his vigor for fighting infectious disease took hold. 

Dahl and Farmer co-founded Partners In Health in Boston, three years after their initial trip to Haiti, operating one clinic on its Central Plateau. What started out as a small community clinic for the village of Cange has grown to a vast medical center complete with a full-service, 104-bed hospital, an infectious disease center, a women’s health clinic, a laboratory, a pharmaceutical warehouse, a Red Cross blood bank and about a dozen schools. Their pilot initiative has been replicated and expanded to another dozen sites across Haiti and into the Dominican Republic and the model is further being replicated in 12 countries. 

For Partners In Health, it is not enough just to offer free medical services. They have found through their tireless commitment to serving the poor that the proliferation of illness needs to be addressed at the root causes of poverty. A range of barriers can exist to prevent someone from seeking medical care - distance, social stigma or a lack of information to name a few. Paramount to their success is the engagement of community health workers. Partners In Health hires and trains local workers to assist patients through treatment, monitor their needs for food, water and housing, provide health education and deliver care and medicine to their homes. All patients being treated for HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis are paired with a worker at the outset of their diagnosis. The high quality treatment and daily visits of community health workers have significantly lengthened the lifespan of patients. 

For over two decades, Partners In Health has transformed conventional thinking on health care among the world’s poorest populations. Their proven sincerity towards the “whatever it takes” philosophy and their holistic approach to health care has sparked national and international commitments to fighting infectious disease worldwide.

(Photo, Butaro Hospital, Rwanda © Adam Bacher, Courtesy of PIH)