Thank you, Paul Farmer, for all you came here to do and did so exceptionally well!

Those who know his work and its significance for understanding why despite (and because of) all the technologies and knowledge and money and means, so many people are sick, suffering and dying before their time will be devastated to hear about Paul Farmer’s death.

Being born and raised in a Black working-class family, in a society like ours, one does not need to be taught about inequity, let alone health inequity, how it is produced and shapes lives. The nature of societies has always fascinated me, as did the interplay between societies and the power contestations that shape the socio-political stratosphere called “the global”.

I studied a few “ologies” at varsity hoping they would help explain how mine and my society’s lived experience got to be what it is. Some of it helped. Some of it left me feeling like I was being sent to the North Pole on a boat sailing on dry land.

I came across Paul Farmer’s writings at what I felt was late but in the end was just the right time in my life. Among others, his Pathologies of Power; Infections and inequalities; and To Repair the World became the texts for the missing answers in my own journey as a social justice activist and leader. He helped me link the dots in ways that enriched my concept of social justice and why there can be no greater pursuit in life. I didn’t know him well at all. The few times I met him (no I never focus on taking photos when I meet people, a real flaw in my life), I was surprised how simple and understated he was, until he spoke. I loved how dedicated he was to elevating people, never making one feel diminished in his presence like some famous are wont to do.

Some people need to live.

But at minimum, with each passing of a great person we need to ask, what is it that needs to die for us to live.

I woke up with this haunting question this morning. Thank you, Paul Farmer, for all you came here to do and did so exceptionally well!

Because you did, the mission of global health equity gets to have a long lifespan!

Thank you!


(By Siphokazi Mthathi)

(Photo Credit: Gilles Peress / The New Yorker)