Hope is a Human Right: The Work of Partners in Health
The before and after photos of the little boy named Jean Luc were vivid, searing. In the first photo I saw an emaciated child. His eyes were dull and solemn in a face that looked old before his time. You could count his ribs. The next photo was unmistakably the same child, but a transformation had taken place. His face was chubby, his body round and his smile beamed with happiness. Another example of the “Lazarus effect” from the work of the healthcare organization Partners in Health.
The Boston-based Partners in Health (PIH), whose 20-year anniversary is being celebrated by the photo exhibit that showed me Jean Luc’s return to health, has brought about miracles like his in some of the poorest areas of the world. Patients suffering from infectious diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis are brought back to life and hope in PIH’s clinics and hospitals, such as Zanmi Lasante, in the destitute central region of Haiti.
In Jean Luc’s case, his disease was malnutrition -- not infectious, but deadly to nearly six million children a year. When I first saw the photos of Jean Luc, I fought back tears. Not because this child did not deserve them, but because he deserves so much more. The guiding principles of Partners in Health, and what for me has made learning about this organization so transforming, are that the poorest of the poor need our compassion, but more than that, our solidarity and our action. Our first response to Jean Luc may be one of pity, but our ultimate response needs to be the drive to fight for his rights.
The vision of Partners in Health transforms healthcare into the work of social justice: “When a person in Peru, or Siberia, or rural Haiti falls ill, PIH uses all of the means at our disposal to make them well – from pressuring drug manufacturers, to lobbying policy makers, to providing medical care and social services. Whatever it takes. Just as we would do if a member of our own family—or we ourselves—were ill.”
PIH feeds children, yes. It also works in partnership with its patients to break the cycle of poverty, providing clean water, safe and sanitary living conditions, education, and economic opportunities. And all of this work is undertaken with the belief that hope and health are human rights.
Below you will find a twelve minute segment from an episode of 60 Minutes that aired in May. It features Partners in Health and its co-founder, Dr. Paul Farmer.