In 2003, Pulitzer prize-winning writer Tracey Kidder published his New York Times bestseller Mountains Beyond Mountains, the true story of Dr. Paul Farmer and Partners in Health, the public health organization he helped found. Kidder profiled the charismatic and determined Farmer, a doctor who openly defied the system of global public health by insisting on curing diseases that conventional wisdom said were incurable but in truth are only logistically and economically out of reach of most of the world.
Now more than ever, in the world of international development, successful projects are measured in terms of “sustainability.” But rather than follow the trend, Dr. Farmer and PIH focus on outcome: what needs to change to truly heal a patient regardless of inconvenience or cost. If a patient has tuberculosis and a leaky roof that contributes to their poor health, the prescription that gets filled by PIH is world class TB medicine, a community health care worker who checks in daily to make sure it gets taken, and a new roof, period. Critics argue that this model is “unsustainable,” impossible to “scale up” or “replicate,” all key components of successful development practices under current standards. And yet, despite the misgivings of many global health experts, PIH’s work is producing not only remarkable results on an individual patient level, but on a massive scale in places as unlikely as Haiti, Siberia, and Rwanda.
Paul Farmer is a complex, compelling character. A doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant, and world class Robin Hood, Farmer is a legendary presence in rural Haiti, hiking hours to see patients, his lanky frame usually outfitted in a pressed white shirt, jacket and tie even in the tropical heat. Farmer was brought up in a bus and on a boat and in medical school found his life’s calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most.
Our intent is to capture the story of Dr. Farmer and the doctors, firebrands, and former patients turned lifesavers themselves that form the core of Partners in Health, the organization he co-founded as a college student 30 years ago in rural Haiti. The organization now operates in 13 countries, building world class health care systems in some of the poorest places on earth.
We were able to document PIH immediately post-quake in Haiti. Dr. Farmer is the UN Deputy Envoy to Haiti under President Bill Clinton, and he has been involved in every aspect of coordinating immediate relief and long range plans for post-quake Haiti. But despite the background of the Haitian quake, this is not a disaster film nor is Partners in Health a relief organization. This is a film about a remarkable set of characters in a pivotal moment.
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