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Dr Farmer comes to Nepal

Friday, June 22nd, 2012
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Mark Arnoldy

As a 22-year-old, I remember rumbling along Route Nationale #3, Haiti’s unpaved and unattended central vein, toward the town of Cange. While crawling up a dusty incline past the dam that spawned Lac Peligre on my right, a nervous anticipation set in.

Those nerves originated from the knowledge that just ahead rested what had been described to me in Port-au-Prince as ‘Dr Paul Farmer’s castle’. Like thousands of young students across the world, I had found a special resonance in the story of Dr Farmer, told by Pulitzer-Prize winning author Tracy Kidder in Mountains Beyond Mountains.

Never before had a narrative so powerfully captured the essence of a growing movement of young global health advocates unwilling to let the poor around the world die unnoticed of preventable disease, or what Haitians appropriately term ‘stupid deaths’.

So it was much to my delight that our tyre was popped rather serendipitously outside Cange, leading me into the home of Partners in Health (PIH) in central Haiti for a brief tour. Though I wasn’t a patient, the facilities at Cange still acted exactly as intended—as an antidote to despair (to steal a beautiful phrase from PIH). There was a quality about the place that seemed attainable for the communities I had come to know in rural Nepal.

That attainability haunted me as I left Haiti for Nepal. I knew of the staggering need for strong rural health systems here, especially in the battered and neglected Far-Western region, yet I wasn’t sure how to replicate what I had seen in Cange. I didn’t know how, that is, until I met Dr Farmer’s former students who were rebuilding the health system in partnership with the government and community in Achham District through Nyaya Health.

I suppose no one should have been surprised that Farmer’s students had rooted themselves in a community that till 2006 didn’t even have a single doctor for over 250,000 people. Nyaya Health’s presence in Far-Western Nepal, a forgotten fold of the earth nearly 9,000 miles from Haiti, is a testament to just how far PIH’s moral reverberations truly extend.

This week, Farmer himself will visit Nepal and Achham for the first time, 29 years after his work in Cange began. He comes with nearly all the accolades one could imagine, including a MacArthur ‘genius award’, a Harvard University professorship, and a post as Deputy UN Special Envoy for Haiti under President Clinton.

But, more importantly, Farmer will come with his characteristic commitment and pragmatism to understand and serve the poor, which is why all of us involved in developing rural health care systems can welcome his arrival as a bright contrast to the tragic ties of disease and privation which have bound Haiti and Nepal together in recent times.

When Farmer rumbles around a turn on Madhya Pahadi Rajmarga and arrives at Bayalpata Hospital in Achham, his visit will accompany an opportunity to do as he recently advised graduates of Northwestern University to do: counter failures of imagination and harness the power of partnerships to improve the health of the poor.

That is a prescription desperately needed in Nepal.

Mark Arnoldy is the Executive Director of Nyaya Health and a former Fulbright Scholar in Nepal.

Paul Farmer’s faculty profile
Nyaya Health’s website
Follow Nyaya Health on twitter

Read also:
Resurrection Achham, PAAVAN MATHEMA
Nyaya Health is making the right to health a reality for the people of Achham

The power of three, DAMBAR KRISHNA SHRESTHA
Three young city-educated medical workers prefer to work in remote Nepal

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