Rwanda is mourning the death of an American philanthropist who was instrumental in delivering healthcare to remote areas in the country.
Dr Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, a non-profit organisation, died on Monday in Rwanda.
Dr Farmer, 62, was a Harvard Medical School professor, anthropologist, and co-founder of the Rwanda-based International University of Global Health Equity (UGHE).
He passed away in his sleep while in Butaro, where he helped set up a cancer treatment centre and later a teaching hospital that opened in January 2011.
The 150-bed hospital has four basic services – maternity, internal medicine, surgery, and paediatrics.
Dr Farmer had been teaching at UGHE for a few weeks before his death.
He is survived by his wife, Didi Farmer, and three children.
‘Good doctor, philanthropist’
President Paul Kagame said Rwanda has lost a great doctor and philanthropist.
“It is hard to find the words to express the sad news of the passing of Paul Farmer – the person, the doctor, the philanthropist. He combined many things hard to find in one person.
“The weight of his loss is in many ways personal, to the country of Rwanda (which he loved and to which he contributed so much during its reconstruction), to my family, and to myself. I know there are many who feel this way in Africa and beyond. My deepest condolences to Didi, his wife, their children, family, and friends,” Kagame tweeted.
In 2019, Dr Farmer’s work in Rwanda earned him a National Order of Outstanding Friendship, given to an individual who has performed outstanding acts in promoting friendship and cooperation between Rwanda and other countries.
Dr Farmer also co-founded the University of Global Health Equity with Rwanda’s former Health minister, Agnes Binagwaho. 46 students have graduated from the medical university since 2015.
“It is so sudden and an unimaginable catastrophe to all of us and the global health community. A life so beautifully lived deserves to be beautifully remembered,” Dr Binagwaho said in a statement.
Healthcare for the needy
Locally known as “Inshuti mu Buzima”, Partners in Health, which Dr Farmer co-founded, has been operating in Rwanda since 2005, delivering healthcare to more than 86,000 people in Kayonza, Burera, and Kirehe districts.
The organisation was founded in 1987 in Haiti with the mission to provide high quality care to patients from impoverished backgrounds and those living far from healthcare facilities.
Over the following three decades, it expanded to other countries, including Rwanda.
Partners in Health Rwanda focuses on HIV and improving maternal and child health in Rwanda.
Dr Farmer’s organisation opened the Butaro Cancer Support Center at Butaro District Hospital and provides free, long-term housing on the hospital campus for patients, family members, and caregivers during extended treatment, benefiting more than 1,700 people.
In 2020, he won the million-dollar Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture, an honour that goes to an individual who has made major contributions to advancing ideas that shape the world.