Partners In Health was founded in 1987 by Paul Farmer, Ophelia Dahl, Jim Yong Kim, Todd McCormack and Tom White.
On the occasion of PIH’s 25th anniversary in 2012, four founders shared their reflections and remembered their friend and fellow Co-founder, Thomas J. White, who passed away in 2011.
When I look back down the long road I see a small crowd pointing to a clinic. Built from scratch, that tiny clinic in Cange marked the first of many transformations. Building became a theme: next a lab and operating rooms; then a local workforce, partnerships, a teaching hospital, new sites in Africa, a movement for equity in health care. Our master builder, by vocation and avocation, was Tom White, the embodiment of the generosity and commitment to the poor on which we’ve based our work. Throughout, lifelong friendships—first with Paul, Todd, Jim, Tom, and the Lafontants— have sustained me.
Cange today is not recognizable as the barren place of our origin. In that transformation lies the heart of what we do at PIH. Our work now stretches from the Navajo Nation to Rwanda and beyond, fueled by the conviction that everyone deserves access to high-quality care. Through decades of growth and change, as we’ve taken on tuberculosis and AIDS, maternal mortality and the plagues that stalk the poor, we’ve been accompanied by the many who support PIH. The road ahead—broadened by a quarter-century’s experience, new partnerships, and the ever-growing family that has joined us along the way—offers the chance to deliver on the promise of global health.
The turning points in my life are all linked to PIH and to changes small and seismic within it, just as the steadiness in my life has come most reliably from friendships made here. At the outset, some of us were pursuing studies from clinical medicine to English literature; others, like Tom White, were established. But each of us chose social justice as our true north. Those we sought to serve shared that commitment, attacking the forces that damaged and shortened their lives. Together we made tackling ill health the focus, and partnerships the strategy. The persistent pathologies of poverty—whether cholera, tuberculosis, and AIDS, or the crucible of Haiti’s earthquake—must be addressed through partnerships. No group can do it alone; alliances forged to confront global threats cannot just be local.
Now, our great challenge is finding partners to help us respond effectively to the persistent and pernicious epidemic of poverty. True partnership is tough. But it’s the way towards true north, as the past 25 years have taught us—all of us; PIHers around the world; our patients, our teachers, our students; and especially my partners in health Ophelia, Todd, Jim, and Tom, whom we miss so much.
Jim Yong Kim
Historic transformations come when organizations and social movements unite the thirst for justice with implementation skills. To me, PIH embodies what can be achieved when these two qualities are brought together. When PIH started out, we developed the concept of “pragmatic solidarity” to describe our approach. Solidarity means a passionate moral commitment to others’ wellbeing, based on awareness of humanity’s deep interdependence. Pragmatism, in this context, means the strategic thinking and implementation skills needed to build effective delivery systems for social goals. PIH has succeeded because we’ve found partners in communities who have turned solidarity into a tangible reality for poor people, by building systems to deliver health care, clean water, improved housing, education, and economic opportunity. To work alongside these colleagues, and see what they’ve accomplished, has humbled and inspired me for 25 years.
Taking our first steps in pragmatic solidarity a quarter-century ago, we couldn’t have predicted where the path would lead. Today, we’re bringing PIH solutions to a global scale. We’re seeing that passionate pragmatism has relevance across all regions and development contexts. In other words, our work has just begun.
At Tom White’s wake, Ophelia handed me a note I wrote to Paul when he asked me to help him set up PIH. In that note I wrote: “I can assure you nothing makes me happier than knowing I have an opportunity to help expand and secure what you’ve developed in Cange.” Twenty-five years later, I can confidently say that, outside of my family, nothing has.
If accompaniment is the root that feeds PIH, I surely was the first who needed to be accompanied. Unlike Paul, Ophelia, and Jim, who crafted multiple day jobs to build partnerships in health, I was committed to other professional pursuits. I remain forever indebted to my co-founders, and the ever-growing PIH community, for helping ensure that, as I live ensconced in circles of excessive consumption, I remain connected to our generation’s most vexing issue: the stark realities of the world’s poor. And, 25 years on, I still feel privileged to do what I can to help “expand and secure” our programs, which now span continents and involve dozens of partners. I remain heartened and humbled by so many who have joined our effort to work for a more preferential option for the poor.
Partners In Health launches the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) in Rwanda. A different kind of university, UGHE harnesses the best ideas in higher education and integrates cutting-edge technology platforms with immersion in complex health care delivery systems.
With invitations from local partners and ministries of health, Partners In Health began working in Liberia and Sierra Leone in September 2014 in response the Ebola crisis. The organization is currently focused on strengthening health systems in the two countries.
PIH and Haitian sister organization Zanmi Lasante (PIH/ZL) open the 300-bed, solar-powered University Hospital in Mirebalais, Haiti, a national teaching hospital that will provide advanced, high-quality care to an area of 3.3 million people.
Features include six operating theaters, three ambulatory wings for outpatients, 24 labour and delivery beds, an electronic medical records system and a digital radiology platform with the only CT scanner in the public sector in Haiti. The hospital was constructed at a cost of about $56,000 per bed, a fraction of what it costs to build a comparable hospital in Canada.
Partners In Health Canada receives charitable status from the Canadian government and opens an office in Toronto, becoming the first PIH-affiliated national office in a developed country outside the United States.
Working with local communities and governments, PIH provides health care to more than 2.4 million people served by 76 health facilities. With the Rwandan government, PIH opens a teaching hospital in Butaro that brings high quality care and medical education to the entire east Africa region.
PIH/ZL respond to the 7.0 earthquake in Haiti with life saving emergency care and a plan to strengthen Haiti’s public health system.
PIH begins the Maternal Mortality Reduction Program in Lesotho, leading to a 350 percent increase in facility-based deliveries.
PIH and Zanmi Lasante provide emergency support to thousands of people following a devastating series of hurricanes and tropical storms.
PIH begins work in Neno District, Malawi, launching testing and treatment programs for HIV and TB.
PIH launches a new project in Lesotho in southern Africa, bringing primary care and HIV and TB testing and treatment to two remote clinics high in the mountains.
PIH expands operations to sub-Saharan Africa, the epicenter of the global AIDS pandemic, bringing community-based HIV treatment and primary care to two districts in rural Rwanda.
The PIH project in Haiti is one of the first to receive funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria.
PIH assumes responsibility for improving clinical care at the TB project in Tomsk, Siberia.
In Haiti, Zanmi Lasante's HIV Equity Initiative is one of the first in the world to provide antiretroviral therapy in resource-poor settings.
PIH and Harvard Medical School win a $44.7 million Gates Foundation grant to fight drug-resistant TB.
Drug-resistant TB patients in Carabayllo, Peru complete treatment with cure rates of 80 percent, the World Health Organization to revise recommendations for treating drug-resistant TB.
In Haiti, Zanmi Lasante initiates a pilot program to provide antiretroviral therapy to 50 AIDS patients.
PIH and Peruvian partner Socios En Salud begin a joint project to treat drug-resistant TB patients in Carabayllo. Community residents are trained to deliver the complex drug therapies, which include up to seven different medications, in patients’ homes.
PIH’s sister organization, Socios En Salud, is established in Carabayllo, a shantytown on the outskirts of Lima.
PIH Co-founder Paul Farmer wins a MacArthur "genius grant" and uses it to establish the Institute for Health and Social Justice (IHSJ), PIH's research and advocacy arm.
In Haiti, Zanmi Lasante launches its comprehensive women’s health program, Pwoje Sante Fanm.
Partners In Health (PIH) is founded in Boston by Ophelia Dahl, Paul Farmer, Jim Kim, Todd McCormack and Thomas J. White to support Zanmi Lasante (ZL), founded in Haiti in 1983.
ZL's activities include schools, clinics, a training program for health outreach workers, a mobile unit that screens residents of area villages for preventable diseases, and an ongoing study of sickness and health among the peasants of rural Haiti that will form the basis of Farmer’s 1992 book, AIDS and Accusation.
The first case of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) on the Central Plateau in Haiti is identified by health workers based in Cange. The disease becomes prevalent in Haiti’s urban slums.
The Clinique Bon Sauveur in Cange is established. The two-room clinic will grow over time into a full-fledged hospital with extensive facilities and capabilities.
Father Fritz and Yolande Lafontant and colleagues working in Haiti are joined by Paul Farmer, soon to be a first-year Harvard Medical School student, and 18-year-old Ophelia Dahl. Together they establish a community-based health project in Cange, known as Zanmi Lasante -- “Partners In Health” in Haitian Kreyol.
Father Fritz and Yolande Lafontant begin working to provide schooling to the children of the displaced peasants of Cange. They report levels of illness and death that rank among the worst in the world.
The village of Cange, on Haiti’s Central Plateau, is submerged by a dam on the Artibonite River designed and funded by US development agencies to supply electrical power to the capital city of Port-au-Prince, many hours distant. Residents of Cange, all subsistence farmers, receive little compensation for their homes and land, and are forced to move up to the barren hillside as squatters.