University Professor Paul Farmer To Give HKS Address

Renowned global health leader will address Kennedy School graduates

Famed Harvard Medical School Professor Professor Paul Farmer will serve as the 2011 commencement speaker for the John F. Kennedy School of Government, according to an announcement released yesterday.

Farmer—a medical anthropologist and physician—is known for his humanitarian work as one of the co-founders of the international global health non-profit organization Partners in Health.

His work deals with a wide range of topics relating to health in developing areas, including human rights, community health strategies, and socioeconomic inequalities.

“Paul Farmer has been a leader in tackling the immense challenges surrounding global health. His optimistic spirit and ongoing commitment to public service is to be commended and celebrated,” said Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood in the press release. “We look forward to hearing his message to the members of the Harvard Kennedy School’s graduating Class of 2011.”

Both undergraduate and graduate students at Harvard praised the Kennedy School’s decision to invite Farmer.


Lily H. Ostrer ’14—who enrolled in Farmer’s course Societies of the World 25: “Health, Culture, and Community: Case Studies in Global Health” this past fall—called him “one of the most important figures” in the field of global health.

“I think he’s a great choice for a speaker. He is a role model for so many health practitioners and aspiring health practitioners and policy-makers,” Ostrer said.

“He simultaneously advocates for the voiceless around the world and speaks the language of influential policy-makers to help ensure that real and sustainable change is made to save millions of lives,” Ostrer added in an email.

“I’ve never taken a class with Professor Farmer. But I’ve read his books, and I’m impressed with his work,” said Sarah J. Haig, a Kennedy School student, “He adds a lot to the conversation on political health.”

Farmer earned his B.A. From Duke University in 1982 before receiving both his Ph.D. in Anthropology and his M.D. from Harvard in 1990.

He served for ten years as the medical director of a Haitian charity hospital, and is currently serving as an U.N. Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti under Special Envoy Bill Clinton in addition to his other positions.

Partners in Health, which Farmer co-founded in 1987 with Ophelia Dahl, Thomas J. White, Todd McCormack, and Jim Kim, has worked to build comprehensive primary health care systems in impoverished nations ­where access to medical care is limited.

In Dec. 2010, Farmer was named a University Professor—the highest faculty rank at Harvard, held by just 23 professors.

He has written numerous books on global health.