Paul Farmer, a medical anthropologist who has fought for stronger public health care infrastructure around the world, has been named the recipient of the 2020 Berggruen Prize.
The $1 million prize, which is awarded annually to people who “have profoundly shaped human self-understanding and advancement in a rapidly changing world,” went to the doctor in recognition of his leadership related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Dr. Farmer’s call to improve public health systems is a matter not only of science but also of politics, economics and ethics,” Amy Gutmann, a contest juror and the president of the University of Pennsylvania, said in a news release. “In this crisis, like the ones that preceded it, our knowledge far outpaces our will to put effective solutions into action.”
Dr. Farmer, who has worked in the field for decades, helped found Partners in Health, a Boston-based nonprofit focused on improving health care in resource-poor communities, in 1987. As he has traveled the globe, he has accumulated accolades: Dr. Farmer was a 1993 MacArthur Fellow and received the National Academy of Sciences’s 2018 Public Welfare Medal. He has been the chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School since 2009.
“He has reshaped our understanding not just 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, the chairman of the prize committee and a professor at New York University who writes The New York Times’s Ethicist column.
Throughout his career, Dr. Farmer has helped provide treatments for Ebola, tuberculosis, H.I.V. and AIDs in “clinical deserts” like Haiti, Rwanda and Peru. He also wrote 12 books — most recently “Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds,” in which he dissected the structural inequalities that worsened Ebola’s spread and the ways that the 2014 outbreak was not inevitable. He was also the subject of the 2017 documentary “Bending the Arc.”
“As both thinker and actor, Dr. Paul Farmer has connected the philosophical articulation of human rights to the practical pursuit of health,” said Nicolas Berggruen, the chairman of the institute.