Dr. Farmer's Remedy For World Health

Byron Pitts Meets A Man Who Dedicates His Life To Bringing Healthcare To The Poor

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The great innovators of our time are said to be the titans of technology - the inventors of the microchip, the founders of Microsoft, the guys behind Google. But far from Silicon Valley another great thinker and innovator is changing the world with far less fanfare. His name is Dr. Paul Farmer.

As Byron Pitts reports, more than 20 years ago Dr. Farmer and a few other great minds created a charity called "Partners In Health." In the years since, they revolutionized the delivery of healthcare worldwide, saving millions of lives in places where no one thought there was any reason for hope.

"The idea that because you're born in Haiti you could die having a child. The idea that because you're born in you know Malawi your children may go to bed hungry. We want to take some of the chance out of that," Farmer tells Pitts.

Farmer invited 60 Minutes to central Haiti, where he discovered his life's work 25 years ago. The invitation meant a three-hour, jaw clenching, teeth rattling ride on an unpaved road from the capital city to the hospital.

If the ride doesn't break your back, what you see when you arrive will break your heart: the squatter settlement of Cange is one of the poorest parts of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

The desperate need Paul Farmer saw in central Haiti as a young man inspired him and four friends to create Partners in Health. They raised money and built what's become the largest hospital in central Haiti.

Asked how many lives he thinks Partners In Health has saved, Farmer says, "In medicine, we say 'TNTC,' too numerous to count."

What began as a small, understaffed and ill-equipped clinic in 1985, today has 100 inpatient beds, an array of specialists, and three operating rooms. They have nearly two million patient visits a year. And the medical care at the clinic is free. For Farmer, healthcare is a human right. He wants to show the world that children for example don't have to die of treatable illnesses like tuberculosis or malaria, diseases which they treat every day.

"Do you have any idea how many people around the world die from treatable diseases?" Pitts asks.

"Well probably about ten million a year," Farmer estimates. "Well, let me just give you some numbers. Just from AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and women who die in childbirth, I bet that's six million."

Haitians are so desperate for medical care that each night people sleep on the ground, outside the hospital, just waiting to get treated. 60 Minutes was there when Farmer got word that a woman dying in childbirth was being prepared for an emergency c-section.

The surgical team was made up entirely of Haitians. Partners In Health staffs its hospitals with as many locals as possible, so they are not dependant on Americans. In this case, the baby was delivered alive. For the mother who'd lost a lot of blood, it was touch and go.

Dr. Farmer checked on her after the operation. "She's gonna make it, thumbs up," he remarked later.

"That same woman, same circumstances, 25 years ago, what would have happened?" Pitts asks.

"Well, she wouldn't have made it," Farmer says.

Asked what that tells him about his work, Farmer tells Pitts, "It tells me that if you set your sights high and if you stick with it, you can make real progress. That's what it says to me."

In fact, Farmer has made astounding progress: Partners In Health has expanded and now works in nine countries, including Peru, Russia, Mexico and three countries in Africa. With 6,000 employees worldwide, their budget of $50 million dollars is barely enough to keep it going.

Farmer spends most of his time commuting between the hospitals in Rwanda and Haiti. One of his priorities is to train a new generation of doctors to follow in his footsteps, physicians like David Walton.