We have learned with great sadness that Dr. Paul Farmer has died suddenly at the age of 62. The passing of Dr. Farmer is a loss for all who value the possibility that ideas backed by moral commitment can change the world for the better.
In December 2020, the jurors of the Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture selected physician and anthropologist Dr. Paul Farmer for his remarkable work on public health and human rights. Because we were unable to gather in person to honor him, we partnered with the BBC for an hour-long radio documentary to celebrate Dr. Farmer’s ideas and work in improving global health equity. Presented by BBC correspondent Razia Iqbal in collaboration with the Berggruen Institute, A Right to Health aired on June 26, 2021 featuring Dr. Farmer in a conversation about the world’s most pressing public health issues.
Along with our colleagues at the Berggruen Institute, we are profoundly saddened by the passing of someone whose ideas transformed how we think about infectious diseases, social inequality, and caring for others while standing in solidarity with them. Dr. Farmer 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 consider the ethical and political obligations that follow.
Most recently, Dr. Paul Farmer had been an important contributor to understanding the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. He was among those who warned of the need to strengthen public health systems in recognition of such threats and also reminded us that this would be a matter of politics and economics as much as biology. Dr. Farmer communicated the health disparities during the pandemic and the need for social as well as medical support in communities ravaged by coronavirus. He emphasized the special burden of caregivers and he helped explain why the arrival of vaccines will not replace the need for basic public health measures.
Dr. Paul Farmer exemplifies the Berggruen Prize’s commitment “to recognize ideas that make a profoundly positive difference in the world.”
Berggruen Prize Jury
Anthony Appiah, Chair, 2016-2020
Antonio Damasio, Chair
Amy Gutmann, 2016-2020
Pratap Bhanu Mehta
On behalf of the Institute
Nicolas Berggruen, Chair
Dawn Nakagawa, Executive Vice-President
Craig Calhoun, Senior Advisor